Bird Flu Alarm

Understanding Avian Influenza

Types, Subtypes and Strains

There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B, and C.

Influenza Type A
Influenza type A viruses can infect people, birds, pigs, horses, seals, whales, and other animals, but wild birds are the natural hosts for these viruses. Influenza type A viruses are divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus. These proteins are called hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). There are 15 different HA subtypes and 9 different NA subtypes. Many different combinations of HA and NA proteins are possible. Only some influenza A subtypes (i.e., H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2) are currently in general circulation among people. Other subtypes are found most commonly in other animal species. For example, H7N7 and H3N8 viruses cause illness in horses.

Subtypes of influenza A virus are named according to their HA and NA surface proteins. For example, an "H7N2 virus" designates an influenza A subtype that has an HA 7 protein and an NA 2 protein. Similarly an "H5N1" virus has an HA 5 protein and an NA 1 protein.

Influenza Type B
Influenza B viruses are normally found only in humans. Unlike influenza A viruses, these viruses are not classified according to subtype. Although influenza type B viruses can cause human epidemics, they have not caused pandemics.

Influenza Type C
Influenza type C viruses cause mild illness in humans and do not cause epidemics or pandemics. These viruses are not classified according to subtype.

Understanding Avian Influenza