Medical Definition of Antigenic shift

Antigenic shift: A sudden shift in the antigenicity of a virus resulting from the recombination of the genomes of two viral strains. Antigenic shift is seen only with influenza A viruses. It results usually from the replacement of the hemagglutinin (the viral attachment protein that also mediates the entry of the virus into the cell) with a novel subtype that has not been present in human influenzaviruses for a long time. The source of these new genes is the large reservoir of influenzaviruses in waterfowl. The consequences of the introduction of a new hemagglutinin into human viruses is usually a pandemic, or a worldwide epidemic.

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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016

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