Highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI) H5N1 viruses have been spreading from Asia since late 2003. Early detection and classification are paramount for control of the disease because these viruses are lethal to birds and have caused fatalities in humans. Here, we described TaqMan reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assays for rapid detection of all AI viruses (influenza type A) and for identification of H5N1 of the Eurasian lineage. The assays were sensitive and quantitative over a 105–106 linear range, detected all of the tested AI viruses, and enabled differentiation between H5 and H7 subtypes. These tests allow definitive confirmation of an AI virus as H5 within hours, which is crucial for rapid implementation of control measures in the event of an outbreak.

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