H2N2 influenza A viruses caused the Asian pandemic of 1957 and then disappeared from the human population 10 years later. To assess the potential for similar outbreaks in the future, we determined the antigenicity of H2 hemagglutinins (HAs) from representative human and avian H2 viruses and then analyzed the nucleotide and amino acid sequences to determine their evolutionary characteristics in different hosts. The results of longitudinal virus surveillance studies were also examined to estimate the prevalence of avian H2 isolates among samples collected from wild ducks and domestic poultry. Reactivity patterns obtained with a large panel of monoclonal antibodies indicated antigenic drift in the HA of human H2 influenza viruses, beginning in 1962. Amino acid changes were clustered in two regions of HA1 that correspond to antigenic sites A and D of the H3 HA. By contrast, the antigenic profiles of the majority of avian H2 HAs were remarkably conserved through 1991, resembling the prototype Japan 57 (H2N2) strain. Amino acid changes were distributed throughout HA1, indicating that antibodies do not play a major role in the selection of avian H2 viruses. Phylogenetic analysis revealed two geographic site-specific lineages of avian H2 HAs: North American and Eurasian. Evidence is presented to support interregion transmission of gull H2 viruses. The human H2 HAs that circulated in 1957-1968 form a separate phylogenetic lineage, most closely related to the Eurasian avian H2 HAs. There was an increased prevalence of H2 influenza viruses among wild ducks in 1988 in North America, preceding the appearance of H2N2 viruses in domestic fowl. As the prevalence of avian H2N2 influenza viruses increased on turkey farms and in live bird markets in New York City and elsewhere, greater numbers of these viruses have come into direct contact with susceptible humans. We conclude that antigenically conserved counterparts of the human Asian pandemic strain of 1957 continue to circulate in the avian reservoir and are coming into closer proximity to susceptible human populations.