Influenza A viruses are transmitted via the air from the nasal respiratory epithelium of ferrets

Nat Commun. 2020 Feb 7;11(1):766. doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-14626-0.


Human influenza A viruses are known to be transmitted via the air from person to person. It is unknown from which anatomical site of the respiratory tract influenza A virus transmission occurs. Here, pairs of genetically tagged and untagged influenza A/H1N1, A/H3N2 and A/H5N1 viruses that are transmissible via the air are used to co-infect donor ferrets via the intranasal and intratracheal routes to cause an upper and lower respiratory tract infection, respectively. In all transmission cases, we observe that the viruses in the recipient ferrets are of the same genotype as the viruses inoculated intranasally, demonstrating that they are expelled from the upper respiratory tract of ferrets rather than from trachea or the lower airways. Moreover, influenza A viruses that are transmissible via the air preferentially infect ferret and human nasal respiratory epithelium. These results indicate that virus replication in the upper respiratory tract, the nasal respiratory epithelium in particular, of donors is a driver for transmission of influenza A viruses via the air.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air
  • Animals
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Ferrets / virology*
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus / genetics
  • Influenza A virus / pathogenicity
  • Influenza A virus / physiology*
  • Madin Darby Canine Kidney Cells
  • Nasal Mucosa / virology*
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / transmission*
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / veterinary
  • Viral Tropism