Viral evolution and transmission effectiveness

World J Virol. 2012 Oct 12;1(5):131-4. doi: 10.5501/wjv.v1.i5.131.


Different viruses transmit among hosts with different degrees of efficiency. A basic reproductive number (R0) indicates an average number of cases getting infected from a single infected case. R0 can vary widely from a little over 1 to more than 10. Low R0 is usually found among rapidly evolving viruses that are often under a strong positive selection pressure, while high R0 is often found among viruses that are highly stable. The reason for the difference between antigenically diverse viruses with low R0, such as influenza A virus, and antigenically stable viruses with high R0, such as measles virus, is not clear and has been a subject of great interest. Optimization of transmissibility fitness considering intra-host dynamics and inter-host transmissibility was shown to result in strategies for tradeoff between transmissibility and diversity. The nature of transmission, targeting either a naïve children population or an adult population with partial immunity, has been proposed as a contributing factor for the difference in the strategies used by the two groups of viruses. The R0 determines the levels of threshold heard immunity. Lower R0 requires lower herd immunity to terminate an outbreak. Therefore, it can be assumed that the outbreak saturation can be reached more readily when the R0 is low. In addition, one may assume that when the outbreak saturation is reached, herd immunity may provide a strong positive selection pressure that could possibly result in an occurrence of escape mutants. Studies of these hypotheses will give us an important insight into viral evolution. This review discusses the above hypotheses as well as some possible mechanistic explanation for the difference in transmission efficiency of viruses.

Keywords: Antigenic diversity; Basic reproductive number; Herd Immunity; Influenza; Measles; Selective pressure; Transmission; Viral infection.