The role of viral, host, and secondary bacterial factors in influenza pathogenesis

Am J Pathol. 2015 Jun;185(6):1528-36. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2014.08.030. Epub 2015 Mar 5.


Influenza A virus infections in humans generally cause self-limited infections, but can result in severe disease, secondary bacterial pneumonias, and death. Influenza viruses can replicate in epithelial cells throughout the respiratory tree and can cause tracheitis, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, diffuse alveolar damage with pulmonary edema and hemorrhage, and interstitial and airspace inflammation. The mechanisms by which influenza infections result in enhanced disease, including development of pneumonia and acute respiratory distress, are multifactorial, involving host, viral, and bacterial factors. Host factors that enhance risk of severe influenza disease include underlying comorbidities, such as cardiac and respiratory disease, immunosuppression, and pregnancy. Viral parameters enhancing disease risk include polymerase mutations associated with host switch and adaptation, viral proteins that modulate immune and antiviral responses, and virulence factors that increase disease severity, which can be especially prominent in pandemic viruses and some zoonotic influenza viruses causing human infections. Influenza viral infections result in damage to the respiratory epithelium that facilitates secondary infection with common bacterial pneumopathogens and can lead to secondary bacterial pneumonias that greatly contribute to respiratory distress, enhanced morbidity, and death. Understanding the molecular mechanisms by which influenza and secondary bacterial infections, coupled with the role of host risk factors, contribute to enhanced morbidity and mortality is essential to develop better therapeutic strategies to treat severe influenza.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Coinfection / microbiology
  • Coinfection / pathology*
  • Coinfection / virology
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / microbiology
  • Influenza, Human / pathology*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Lung / microbiology
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung / virology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / pathology*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / virology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / microbiology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / pathology*
  • Respiratory Mucosa / virology