2.2 Designation of strains of influenza
A considerable number of genetically different strains of influenza A have been identified, and these are classified according to where they were first isolated and according to the type of haemagglutinin and neuraminidase they express. For example ‘A/Shandong/9/93(H3N2)’ is an influenza A virus isolated in the Shandong province of China in 1993 – the ninth isolate in that year – and it has haemagglutinin type 3 and neuraminidase type 2.
At the start of the twenty-first century, the major circulating influenza A strains are H1N1 (‘swine flu’) and H3N2. At least 16 major variants of haemagglutinin and 9 variants of neuraminidase have been recognised, but to date most of these have only been found in birds.
The designation for influenza B is similar, but omits the information on the surface molecules, for example: ‘B/Panama/45/90’.
As you will see later, accurate identification of different strains of flu is crucial if we are to control epidemics by vaccination programmes.