Influenza A viruses (IAVs) infect humans and a wide range of animal species in nature, and waterfowl and shorebirds are their reservoir hosts. Of the 18 haemagglutinin (HA) and 11 neuraminidase (NA) subtypes of IAV, 16 HA and 9 NA subtypes infect aquatic birds. However, among the diverse pool of IAVs in nature, only a limited number of animal IAVs cross the species barrier to infect humans and a small subset of those have spread efficiently from person to person to cause an influenza pandemic. The ability to infect a different species, replicate in the new host and transmit are three distinct steps in this process. Viral and host factors that are critical determinants of the ability of an avian IAV to infect and spread in humans are discussed.
Keywords: animal–human interface; cross-species infection; influenza; species barrier; zoonoses.