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Rev Sci Tech. 2009 Apr;28(1):137-59.

Avian influenza viruses in mammals.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA.


Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses of subtype H5N1 are remarkable because of their expanding non-avian host range and wide tissue tropism. They have caused severe or fatal respiratory and extra-respiratory disease in seven naturally infected species of carnivore. However, they are not unique in their ability to cross the species barrier, to cause clinical disease and mortality, or to replicate in extra-respiratory organs. Low pathogenic avian influenza viruses have crossed from birds to swine, horses, harbour seals, whales and mink; have resulted in severe respiratory disease and mortality; and may have spread beyond the respiratory tract in some of these species. They are also transmitted from mammal to mammal in most species, and have become endemic in swine and horse populations, demonstrating their ability to adapt to and become sustained in mammals. Until now, highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses H5N1 have not acquired this ability, but there are concerns that they may adapt to mammalian species and, thus, could spark an influenza pandemic in humans.

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