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

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Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 484-487
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177238

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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.


Recent reports of mild to severe influenza-like illness in humans caused by a novel swine-origin 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus underscore the need to better understand the pathogenesis and transmission of these viruses in mammals. In this study, selected 2009 A(H1N1) influenza isolates were assessed for their ability to cause disease in mice and ferrets and compared with a contemporary seasonal H1N1 virus for their ability to transmit to naïve ferrets through respiratory droplets. In contrast to seasonal influenza H1N1 virus, 2009 A(H1N1) influenza viruses caused increased morbidity, replicated to higher titers in lung tissue, and were recovered from the intestinal tract of intranasally inoculated ferrets. The 2009 A(H1N1) influenza viruses exhibited less efficient respiratory droplet transmission in ferrets in comparison with the highly transmissible phenotype of a seasonal H1N1 virus. Transmission of the 2009 A(H1N1) influenza viruses was further corroborated by characterizing the binding specificity of the viral hemagglutinin to the sialylated glycan receptors (in the human host) by use of dose-dependent direct receptor-binding and human lung tissue–binding assays.

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