Pathogenesis and Transmission of Swine-Origin 2009 A(H1N1) Influenza Virus in Ferrets

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Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 481-483
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177127

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“Swine Flu” Pathology

The clinical spectrum of disease caused by the swine-origin 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus and its transmissibility are not completely understood. Munster et al. (p. 481; published online 2 July) and Maines et al. (p. 484; published online 2 July) used ferrets, an established model for human influenza, to evaluate the pathogenesis and transmissibility of a selection of 2009 A(H1N1) virus isolates compared with representative seasonal H1N1 viruses. The results help explain the atypical symptoms seen so far, including the gastrointestinal distress and vomiting observed in many patients. Although results were variable, it seems that the 2009 A(H1N1) virus may be less efficiently transmitted by respiratory droplets in comparison to the highly transmissible seasonal H1N1 virus, suggesting that additional virus adaptation in mammals may be required before we see phenotypes observed in earlier pandemics.


The swine-origin A(H1N1) influenza virus that has emerged in humans in early 2009 has raised concerns about pandemic developments. In a ferret pathogenesis and transmission model, the 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus was found to be more pathogenic than a seasonal A(H1N1) virus, with more extensive virus replication occurring in the respiratory tract. Replication of seasonal A(H1N1) virus was confined to the nasal cavity of ferrets, but the 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus also replicated in the trachea, bronchi, and bronchioles. Virus shedding was more abundant from the upper respiratory tract for 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus as compared with seasonal virus, and transmission via aerosol or respiratory droplets was equally efficient. These data suggest that the 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus has the ability to persist in the human population, potentially with more severe clinical consequences.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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