Influenza virus: transmission between species and relevance to emergence of the next human pandemic

  • R. G. Webster


Although influenza viruses are not spread from human to human through the conventional food chain, this is not necessarily the case for the transmission of the precursors of the human pandemic influenza viruses. Aquatic birds of the world are the reservoirs for all influenza A viruses; the virus is spread by fecal-oral transmission in untreated water. Influenza A viruses are frequently transmitted to domestic poultry and two of the 15 subtypes H5 and H7 can become highly pathogenic and have the capacity to decimate commercial poultry flocks. Less frequently, avian influenza viruses are transmitted between species-to pigs, horses and sea mammals. This transmission involves mutational, reassortant or recombinational events and can occur through fecal contamination of unprocessed avian protein or through the water. The transmission of avian influenza viruses or virus genes to humans is postulated to occur through pigs that act as the intermediate host. This involves either multiple mutational or reassortant events and is believed to occur by airborne transmission. Once avian influenza viruses are established in mammals, they are transmitted from animal to animal by the respiratory airborne route. The transmission of avian influenza virus from their reservoir in wild aquatic birds to domestic poultry and to mammalian species including humans can be prevented by treatment of the water supply and of avian protein sources with disinfectants or by heating. Agricultural authorities have recommended the separation of wild aquatic and domestic poultry and of pig and poultry farming. It is theoretically possible to reduce the possibility of the next pandemic of influenza in humans by changes in agricultural practices so that ducks are separated from pigs and people.


Influenza Virus Avian Influenza Avian Influenza Virus H5N2 Influenza Virus Swine Influenza Virus 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. G. Webster
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Virology and Molecular BiologySt. Jude Children’s Research HospitalMemphisUSA

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