Antiviral Activities of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Tea Extract Against Human Influenza A Virus Rely Largely on Acidic pH but Partially on a Low-pH-Independent Mechanism

Food Environ Virol. 2020 Mar;12(1):9-19. doi: 10.1007/s12560-019-09408-x. Epub 2019 Oct 16.


Influenza A virus (IAV) infection is perennially one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Effective therapy and vaccination are needed to control viral expansion. However, current anti-IAV drugs risk inducing drug-resistant virus emergence. Although intranasal administration of whole inactivated virus vaccine can induce efficient protective immunity, formalin and β-propiolactone are the currently used and harmful inactivating agents. Here, we analyzed the antiviral activity of hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.) tea extract against human IAV and evaluated its potential as a novel anti-IAV drug and a safe inactivating agent for whole inactivated vaccine. The in vitro study revealed that the pH of hibiscus tea extract is acidic, and its rapid and potent antiviral activity relied largely on the acidic pH. Furthermore, the mouse study showed that the acidic extract was not effective for either therapeutic or vaccination purposes. However, hibiscus tea extract and protocatechuic acid, one of the major components of the extract, showed not only potent acid-dependent antiviral activity but also weak low-pH-independent activity. The low-pH-independent activity did not affect the conformation of immunodominant hemagglutinin protein. Although this low-pH-independent activity is very limited, it may be suitable for the application to medication and vaccination because this activity is not affected by the neutral blood environment and does not lose antigenicity of hemagglutinin. Further study of the low-pH-independent antiviral mechanism and attempts to enhance the antiviral activity may establish a novel anti-IAV therapy and vaccination strategy.

Keywords: Acidic pH; Anti-human influenza A viral activity; Antiviral drug therapy; Hibiscus tea extract; Natural substance; Whole inactivated vaccine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antiviral Agents / chemistry*
  • Female
  • Hibiscus / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Influenza A virus / drug effects*
  • Influenza A virus / growth & development
  • Influenza, Human / drug therapy*
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Plant Extracts / administration & dosage*
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Plant Extracts