Swine-Origin H1 Influenza Viruses Isolated from Humans Exhibit Sustained Infectivity in an Aerosol State.


Influenza Division, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA [Email]


The relative importance of influenza virus transmission via aerosols is not fully understood, but experimental data suggest that aerosol transmission may represent a critical mode of influenza virus spread among humans. Decades ago, prototypical laboratory strains of influenza were shown to persist in aerosols; however, there is a paucity of data available covering currently circulating influenza viruses, which differ significantly from their predecessors. In this study, we evaluated the longevity of influenza viruses in aerosols generated in the laboratory. We selected a panel of H1 viruses that exhibit diverse transmission profiles in the ferret model, including four human isolates of swine origin (referred to as variant) and a seasonal strain. By measuring the ratio of viral RNA to infectious virus maintained in aerosols over time, we show that influenza viruses known to transmit efficiently through the air display enhanced stability in an aerosol state for prolonged periods compared to those viruses that do not transmit as efficiently. We then assessed whether H1 influenza virus was still capable of infecting and causing disease in ferrets after being aged in suspended aerosols. Ferrets exposed to very low levels of influenza virus (≤17 PFU) in aerosols aged for 15 or 30 min became infected, with five of six ferrets shedding virus in nasal washes at titers on par with ferrets who inhaled higher doses of unaged influenza virus. We describe here an underreported characteristic of influenza viruses, stability in aerosols, and make a direct connection to the role this characteristic plays in influenza transmission.IMPORTANCE Each time a swine influenza virus transmits to a human, it provides an opportunity for the virus to acquire adaptations needed for sustained human-to-human transmission. Here, we use aerobiology techniques to test the stability of swine-origin H1 subtype viruses in aerosols and evaluate their infectivity in ferrets. Our results show that highly transmissible influenza viruses display enhanced stability in an aerosol state compared to viruses that do not transmit as efficiently. Similar to human-adapted strains, swine-origin influenza viruses are infectious in ferrets at low doses even after prolonged suspension in the air. These data underscore the risk of airborne swine-origin influenza viruses and support the need for continued surveillance and refinement of innovative laboratory methods to investigate mammalian exposure to inhaled pathogens. Determination of the molecular markers that affect the longevity of airborne influenza viruses will improve our ability to quickly identify emerging strains that present the greatest threat to public health.


aerosols,airborne microorganisms,ferret,influenza,transmission,zoonotic infections,

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