Influenza virus characterisation - Summary Europe, November 2020

Surveillance report
8 Dec 2020
Publication series: Influenza Virus Characterisation

Suggested citation: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Influenza virus characterisation, summary Europe, November 2020. Stockholm: ECDC; 2020.

ECDC’s influenza virus characterisation reports are published periodically and give an overview of circulating influenza viruses. They provide details on the current vaccine strains, summarise the development of the viruses since the last report, and closely follow the main developments for the ongoing influenza season. Virus characterisation reports are primarily intended for influenza virologists and epidemiologists.

Executive summary

This is the second report for the 2020–2021 influenza season. As of week 48/2020, only 288 influenza detections across the WHO European Region had been reported to TESSy; 52% type A viruses, with A(H3N2) prevailing over A(H1N1)pdm09, and 48% type B viruses with only two having been ascribed to a lineage, both being B/Victoria. This represents a 96% drop in detections compared to the same period in 2019, probably due to the COVID-19 pandemic and measures introduced to combat it.

Since the October 2020 characterisation report, no shipments of influenza-positive specimens from European Union/European Economic Area (EU/EEA) countries have been received at the London WHO Collaborating Centre, the Francis Crick Worldwide Influenza Centre (WIC). Therefore, this report focuses on genetic characterisation of influenza viruses with collection dates prior to the start, week 40, of weekly influenza surveillance reporting for the 2020-2021 influenza season.

The vast majority of A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses have continued to fall in genetic subclade 6B.1A5, mostly in the 6B.1A5A group with few in the 6B.1A5B group. 6B.1A5A viruses have continued to evolve and two subgroups have emerged designated 6B.1A5A+187V/A, representatives of which are recommended for use in the northern hemisphere 2020- 2021 season, and 6B.1A5A+156K, an antigenically distinct group representatives of which are recommended for use in the southern hemisphere 2021 season. Following a rise in the number of 6B.1A5A+156K viruses detected, the two subgroups appear to be circulating in approximately equal proportions currently, based on low numbers of viruses with collection dates after March 2020 having been detected and characterised genetically.

Recently circulating A(H3N2) viruses have continued to fall in clades 3C.2a and 3C.3a, with the vast majority of clade 3C.2a viruses being in the 3C.2a1b group which has now been divided into four subgroups designated 3C.2a1b+T131K-A, 3C.2a1b+T131K-B, 3C.2a1b+T135K-A and 3C.2a1b+T135K-B. Antisera raised in ferrets show high levels of clade/group specificity, although there is some subgroup cross-reactivity. Viruses representative of subgroup 3C.2a1b+T135K-B have been recommended for use in influenza vaccines for northern hemisphere 2020-2021 and southern hemisphere 2021 seasons. Of the low number of viruses with collection dates after March 2020 detected and characterised genetically, the majority have HA genes falling in subgroup 3C.2a1b+T131K-A.