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Infectivity, Transmission, and Pathology of Human-Isolated H7N9 Influenza Virus in Ferrets and Pigs

Science  12 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6142, pp. 183-186
DOI: 10.1126/science.1239844

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Avian Flu in Ferrets

A recent outbreak of avian H7N9 influenza in humans in eastern China has been closely monitored for any evidence of human-to-human transmission and its potential for sparking a pandemic. Zhu et al. (p. 183, published online 23 May) examined the behavior of the avian virus in the ferret, a mammalian model for human influenza. The virus was excreted by the ferrets and could be transmitted readily by contact but displayed limited capacity for airborne infectivity. The pathology of H7N9 is similar to H1N1, and it seems that factors other than the intrinsic pathogenicity of the virus contribute to the reported high fatality rate.

Abstract

The emergence of the H7N9 influenza virus in humans in Eastern China has raised concerns that a new influenza pandemic could occur. Here, we used a ferret model to evaluate the infectivity and transmissibility of A/Shanghai/2/2013 (SH2), a human H7N9 virus isolate. This virus replicated in the upper and lower respiratory tracts of the ferrets and was shed at high titers for 6 to 7 days, with ferrets showing relatively mild clinical signs. SH2 was efficiently transmitted between ferrets via direct contact, but less efficiently by airborne exposure. Pigs were productively infected by SH2 and shed virus for 6 days but were unable to transmit the virus to naïve pigs or ferrets. Under appropriate conditions, human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 virus may be possible.

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