A 2-year surveillance study of influenza A viruses in migratory birds was conducted to understand the subsequent risk during the migratory seasons in Dandong Yalu River Estuary Coastal Wetland National Nature Reserve, Liaoning Province, China, a major stopover site on the East Asian-Australasian flyway. Overall, we isolated 27 influenza A viruses with multiple subtypes, including H3N8 (n = 2), H4N6 (n = 2), H4N7 (n = 2), H7N4 (n = 9), H7N7 (n = 1), H10N7 (n = 7), and H13N6 (n = 4). Particularly, a novel reassortant influenza A(H7N4) virus was first identified in a woman and her backyard poultry flock in Jiangsu Province, China, posing a serious threat to public health. Here, we describe the genetic characterization and pathogenicity of the nine influenza A(H7N4) isolates. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that complex viral gene flow occurred among Asian countries. We also demonstrated a similar evolutionary trajectory of the surface genes of the A(H7N4) isolates and Jiangsu human-related A(H7N4) viruses. Our A(H7N4) isolates exhibited differing degrees of virulence in mice, suggesting a potential risk to other mammalian species, including humans. We revealed multiple mutations that might affect viral virulence in mice. Our report highlights the importance and need for the long-term surveillance of avian influenza virus in migratory birds combined with domestic poultry surveillance along migratory routes and flyways and, thereby, the development of measures to manage potential health threats. IMPORTANCE The H7 subtype avian influenza viruses, such as H7N2, H7N3, H7N4, H7N7, and H7N9, were documented as being capable of infecting humans, and the H7 subtype low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses are capable of mutating into highly pathogenic avian influenza; therefore, they pose a serious threat to public health. Here, we investigated the evolutionary history, molecular characteristics, and pathogenicity of shorebird-origin influenza A(H7N4) viruses, showing a similar evolutionary trajectory with Jiangsu human A(H7N4) viruses in HA and NA genes. Moreover, our isolates exhibited variable virulence (including moderate virulence) in mice, suggesting a potential risk to other mammalian species, including humans.
Keywords: AIV; H7N4; mutations; pathogenicity; public health; shorebird.