The outbreak of human infections caused by novel avian-origin influenza A(H7N9) in China since March 2013 underscores the need to better understand the pathogenicity and transmissibility of these viruses in mammals. In a ferret model, the pathogenicity of influenza A(H7N9) was found to be less than that of an influenza A(H5N1) strain but comparable to that of 2009 pandemic influenza A(H1N1), based on the clinical signs, mortality, virus dissemination, and results of histopathologic analyses. Influenza A(H7N9) could replicate in the upper and lower respiratory tract, the heart, the liver, and the olfactory bulb. It is worth noting that influenza A(H7N9) exhibited a low level of transmission between ferrets via respiratory droplets. There were 4 mutations in the virus isolated from the contact ferret: D678Y in the gene encoding PB2, R157K in the gene encoding hemagglutinin (H3 numbering), I109T in the gene encoding nucleoprotein, and T10I in the gene encoding neuraminidase. These data emphasized that avian-origin influenza A(H7N9) can be transmitted between mammals, highlighting its potential for human-to-human transmissibility.
Keywords: H7N9 influenza virus; animal models; pathogenicity; transmissibility.