Mathematical models that describe infection kinetics help elucidate the time scales, effectiveness, and mechanisms underlying viral growth and infection resolution. For influenza A virus (IAV) infections, the standard viral kinetic model has been used to investigate the effect of different IAV proteins, immune mechanisms, antiviral actions, and bacterial coinfection, among others. We sought to further define the kinetics of IAV infections by infecting mice with influenza A/PR8 and measuring viral loads with high frequency and precision over the course of infection. The data highlighted dynamics that were not previously noted, including viral titers that remain elevated for several days during mid-infection and a sharp 4-5 log10 decline in virus within 1 day as the infection resolves. The standard viral kinetic model, which has been widely used within the field, could not capture these dynamics. Thus, we developed a new model that could simultaneously quantify the different phases of viral growth and decay with high accuracy. The model suggests that the slow and fast phases of virus decay are due to the infected cell clearance rate changing as the density of infected cells changes. To characterize this model, we fit the model to the viral load data, examined the parameter behavior, and connected the results and parameters to linear regression estimates. The resulting parameters and model dynamics revealed that the rate of viral clearance during resolution occurs 25 times faster than the clearance during mid-infection and that small decreases to this rate can significantly prolong the infection. This likely reflects the high efficiency of the adaptive immune response. The new model provides a well-characterized representation of IAV infection dynamics, is useful for analyzing and interpreting viral load dynamics in the absence of immunological data, and gives further insight into the regulation of viral control.
Keywords: biphasic viral decay; density dependence; influenza virus infection; mathematical model; viral kinetics.