Reassortment between avian H5N1 and human H3N2 influenza viruses in ferrets: a public health risk assessment.J Virol 2009; 83(16):8131-40JV
This study investigated whether transmissible H5 subtype human-avian reassortant viruses could be generated in vivo. To this end, ferrets were coinfected with recent avian H5N1 (A/Thailand/16/04) and human H3N2 (A/Wyoming/3/03) viruses. Genotype analyses of plaque-purified viruses from nasal secretions of coinfected ferrets revealed that approximately 9% of recovered viruses contained genes from both progenitor viruses. H5 and H3 subtype viruses, including reassortants, were found in airways extending toward and in the upper respiratory tract of ferrets. However, only parental H5N1 genotype viruses were found in lung tissue. Approximately 34% of the recovered reassortant viruses possessed the H5 hemagglutinin (HA) gene, with five unique H5 subtypes recovered. These H5 reassortants were selected for further studies to examine their growth and transmissibility characteristics. Five H5 viruses with representative reassortant genotypes showed reduced titers in nasal secretions of infected ferrets compared to the parental H5N1 virus. No transmission by direct contact between infected and naïve ferrets was observed. These studies indicate that reassortment between H5N1 avian influenza and H3N2 human viruses occurred readily in vivo and furthermore that reassortment between these two viral subtypes is likely to occur in ferret upper airways. Given the relatively high incidence of reassortant viruses from tissues of the ferret upper airway, it is reasonable to conclude that continued exposure of humans and animals to H5N1 alongside seasonal influenza viruses increases the risk of generating H5 subtype reassortant viruses that may be shed from upper airway secretions.