Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5N6) and A(H5N8) virus infections resulted in the culling of more than 37 million poultry in the Republic of Korea during the 2016/17 winter season. Here we characterize two representative viruses, A/Environment/Korea/W541/2016 [Em/W541(H5N6)] and A/Common Teal/Korea/W555/2017 [CT/W555(H5N8)], and evaluate their zoonotic potential in various animal models. Both Em/W541(H5N6) and CT /W555(H5N8) are novel reassortants derived from various gene pools of wild bird viruses present in migratory waterfowl arising from eastern China. Despite strong preferential binding to avian virus–type receptors, the viruses were able to grow in human respiratory tract tissues. Em/W541(H5N6) was found to be highly pathogenic in both chickens and ducks, while CT/W555(H5N8) caused lethal infections in chickens but did not induce remarkable clinical illness in ducks. In mice, both viruses appeared to be moderately pathogenic and displayed limited tissue tropism relative to HPAI H5N1 viruses. Em/W541(H5N6) replicated to moderate levels in the upper respiratory tract of ferrets and was detected in the lungs, brain, spleen, liver, and colon. Unexpectedly, two of three ferrets in direct contact with Em/W541(H5N6)-infected animals shed virus and seroconverted at 14 dpi. CT/W555(H5N8) was less pathogenic than the H5N6 virus in ferrets and no transmission was detected. Given the co-circulation of different, phenotypically distinct, subtypes of HPAI H5Nx viruses for the first time in South Korea, detailed virologic investigations are imperative given the capacity of these viruses to evolve and cause human infections.
Emerging Microbes & Infections – Springer Journals
Published: Mar 14, 2018
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