Sequential Transmission of Influenza Viruses in Ferrets Does Not Enhance Infectivity and Does Not Predict Transmissibility in Humans

Troy C. Sutton, Elaine W. Lamirande, Devanshi R. Patel, Katherine E.E. Johnson, Rita Czako, Elodie Ghedin, Raphael T.C. Lee, Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, Kanta Subbarao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Airborne transmission in ferrets is a key component of pandemic risk assessment. However, some emerging avian influenza viruses transmit between ferrets but do not spread in humans. Therefore, we evaluated sequential rounds of airborne transmission as an approach to enhance the predictive accuracy of the ferret model. We reasoned that infection of ferrets via the respiratory route and onward transmission would more closely model transmission in humans. We hypothesized that pandemic and seasonal viruses would transmit efficiently over two rounds of transmission, while emerging avian viruses would fail to transmit in a second round. The 2009 pandemic H1N1 (pdm09) and seasonal H3N2 viruses were compared to avian-origin H7N9 and H3N8 viruses. Depending on the virus strain, transmission efficiency varied from 50 to 100% during the first round of transmission; the efficiency for each virus did not change during the second round, and viral replication kinetics in both rounds of transmission were similar. Both the H1N1pdm09 and H7N9 viruses acquired specific mutations during sequential transmission, while the H3N2 and H3N8 viruses did not; however, a global analysis of host-adaptive mutations revealed that minimal changes were associated with transmission of H1N1 and H3N2 viruses, while a greater number of changes occurred in the avian H3N8 and H7N9 viruses. Thus, influenza viruses that transmit in ferrets maintain their transmission efficiency through serial rounds of transmission. This answers the question of whether ferrets can propagate viruses through more than one round of airborne transmission and emphasizes that transmission in ferrets is necessary but not sufficient to infer transmissibility in humans. IMPORTANCE Airborne transmission in ferrets is used to gauge the pandemic potential of emerging influenza viruses; however, some emerging influenza viruses that transmit between ferrets do not spread between humans. Therefore, we evaluated sequential rounds of airborne transmission in ferrets as a strategy to enhance the predictive accuracy of the ferret model. Human influenza viruses transmitted efficiently (.83%) over two rounds of airborne transmission, demonstrating that, like humans, ferrets infected by the respiratory route can propagate the infection onward through the air. However, emerging avian influenza viruses with associated host-adaptive mutations also transmitted through sequential transmission. Thus, airborne transmission in ferrets is necessary but not sufficient to infer transmissibility in humans, and sequential transmission did not enhance pandemic risk assessment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalmBio
Volume13
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Virology

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