Two influenza strains could combine to form a dangerous new influenza virus that spreads via our beloved domestic pets.
According to a 10-year Korean study, the canine influenza virus (CIV) could combine with H1N1/2009 – which caused the global swine flu pandemic from 2009-10 – to form a new influenza virus, CIVmv, that’s far more dangerous to humans.
Dr Daesub Song from Korea University said: “Until now, dogs were considered neglected hosts in the field of flu research. However, after the first report of interspecies transmission, surveillance of flu viruses from companion animals should be further strengthened.
“Pre-existing CIV may recombine or reassert with human influenza viruses and give rise to novel viruses that could in turn lead to unique pandemics.”
CIVmv was identified in a dog in 2012 following an epidemic of H1N1. Dr Song used this strain in ferrets to determine if it had the potential to spread from canines to humans. (Ferrets are suited to predicting human risk of influenza due to similar silic acid receptors.)
Both dogs and ferrets infected with CIVmv displayed symptoms of respiratory disease, including congestion, breathing difficulties, coughing, runny eyes, sneezing, lethargy and appetite loss. CIVmv spread and replicated more quickly, and has a higher risk of spreading to humans than the original CIV.
According to Dr Song’s research, there is potential for the virus to become endemic in companion animals – cats are also susceptible – and developing a vaccine will also be a challenge due to the high level of mutations.
The original CIV is a mutation of Influenza A virus subtype H3N2, which can infect birds and mammals. Since being first identified in South Korea, CIV has spread to China, Thailand and the US.
Dr Song will be presenting his findings at this year’s Microbiology Society conference at ICC Belfast next month.