There is accumulating evidence that birds of prey are susceptible to fatal infection with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus. We studied the antigenic, molecular, phylogenetic, and pathogenic properties of 2 HPAI H5N1 viruses isolated from dead falcons in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 2005 and 2007, respectively. Phylogenetic and antigenic analyses grouped both isolates in clade 2.2 (Qinghai-like viruses). However, the viruses appeared to have spread westward via different flyways. It remains unknown how these viruses spread so rapidly from Qinghai after the 2005 outbreak and how they were introduced into falcons in these two countries. The H5N1 outbreaks in the Middle East are believed by some to be mediated by wild migratory birds. However, sporting falcons may be at additional risk from the illegal import of live quail to feed them.
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