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Mixing of genes of human and canine influenza virus: pandemic potential
A new study has shown that newer equine influenza A viruses from strains generated in the early 2000s can infect isolated dog tracheas and that reassorted viruses combining gene fragments from human influenza A virus (hIAV) and canine influenza virus (CIV) are viable. The study from researchers in the USA and UK, published online ahead of print in the Journal of Virology, suggests that dogs could act as a ‘mixing vessel’ for novel viruses with the potential to cause pandemics.

CIV is a relatively recent disease which was first observed in 2003 when a single equine influenza virus was transferred to dogs in a greyhound training facility in the USA and then was spread by the infected greyhounds to other states. Other similar transfers occurred from horses to foxhounds in the UK and from infected horses to nearby dogs in Australia in 2007. Influenza A viruses generally have the ability to be transferred between species, as for example with the H1N1pdm09 ‘swine flu’ pandemic of 2009 in which a virus originating in pigs became combined with human and avian gene segments. It became just antigenically different enough to evade immune recognition by human antibodies against previous H1N1 seasonal strains.

The current study used a model of infection of dog tracheas with different equine and human influenza A viruses in order to study efficiency of cross-species infection with different viral strains. The research team found that equine viruses from the early 2000s infected dog tracheas efficiently to give a CIV-like phenotype in terms of infectivity and tissue damage while those from the 1960s were not effective. Some human influenza virus A strains were also effective. Furthermore, engineered influenza viruses carrying gene segments from human and canine strains were effective as was a virus engineered by combining the human 2009 pandemic virus with the haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) genes of CIV. It is the HA and NA genes that are often targeted by antibodies and vaccines. The authors point out that a virus combining CIV HA with seven genomic segments of the human H1N1 has been recently detected in dogs and would be poorly- if at all- recognised by human antibodies to seasonal H1N2 strains.

Corresponding author Dr Pablo Murcia and of the University of Glasgow explains the significance of the results with engineered chimeric canine-human influenza viruses: “We showed that the genes are indeed compatible, and we also showed that chimeric viruses carrying human and canine influenza genes can infect the dog tracheas." He explains that this implies such chimera could occur in nature and infect dogs, which could then act as “mixing vessels” for viruses with pandemic potential. The final edition of the article is due to appear in the August 2014 edition of the Journal of Virology. Given the high exposure of humans to dogs, the research team are currently investigating the burning question of whether these chimeric viruses can infect human lungs.


Gonzalez, G. et al., 2014. Infection and pathogenesis of canine, equine and human influenza viruses in canine tracheas. Journal of Virology, Published ahead of print, 4 June 2014, doi: 10.1128/JVI.00887-14

Press release: American Society for Microbiology, available from
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