Assessing antigenic drift and phylogeny of influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 virus in Kenya using HA1 sub-unit of the hemagglutinin gene
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Influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 virus emerged in North America in 2009 and has been established as a seasonal strain in humans. After an antigenic stasis of about six years, new antigenically distinct variants of the virus emerged globally in 2016 necessitating a change in the vaccine formulation for the first time in 2017. Herein, we analyzed thirty-eight HA sequences of influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 strains isolated in Kenya during 2015–2018 seasons, to evaluate their antigenic and molecular properties based on the HA1 sub-unit. Our analyses revealed that the A (H1N1) pdm09 strains that circulated in Kenya during this period belonged to genetic clade 6B, subclade 6B.1 and 6B.2. The Kenyan 2015 and 2016 isolates differed from the vaccine strain A/California/07/2009 at nine and fourteen antigenic sites in the HA1 respectively. Further, those isolated in 2017 and 2018 correspondingly varied from A/Michigan/45/2015 vaccine strain at three and fifteen antigenic sites. The predicted vaccine efficacy of A/California/07/2009 against Kenyan 2015/2016 was estimated to be 32.4% while A/Michigan/45/2015 showed estimated vaccine efficacies of 39.6% - 41.8% and 32.4% - 42.1% against Kenyan 2017 and 2018 strains, respectively. Hemagglutinationinhibition (HAI) assay using ferret post-infection reference antiserum showed that the titers for the Kenyan 2015/2016 isolates were 2–8-fold lower compared to the vaccine strain. Overall, our results suggest the A (H1N1) pdm09 viruses that circulated in Kenya during 2015/2016 influenza seasons were antigenic variants of the recommended vaccine strains, denoting sub-optimal vaccine efficacy. Additionally, data generated point to a swiftly evolving influenza A (H1N1) pdm09 virus in recent post pandemic era, underscoring the need for sustained surveillance coupled with molecular and antigenic analyses, to inform appropriate and timely influenza vaccine update.