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Am J Pathol. 2006 Jan;168(1):176-83; quiz 364.

Influenza A virus (H5N1) infection in cats causes systemic disease with potential novel routes of virus spread within and between hosts.

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Department of Virology, Erasmus MC, P.O. Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


The ongoing outbreak of avian influenza A virus (subtype H5N1) infection in Asia is of great concern because of the high human case fatality rate and the threat of a new influenza pandemic. Case reports in humans and felids suggest that this virus may have a different tissue tropism from other influenza viruses, which are normally restricted to the respiratory tract in mammals. To study its pathogenesis in a mammalian host, domestic cats were inoculated with H5N1 virus intratracheally (n = 3), by feeding on virus-infected chicks (n = 3), or by horizontal transmission (n = 2) and examined by virological and pathological assays. In all cats, virus replicated not only in the respiratory tract but also in multiple extra-respiratory tissues. Virus antigen expression in these tissues was associated with severe necrosis and inflammation 7 days after inoculation. In cats fed on virus-infected chicks only, virus-associated ganglioneuritis also occurred in the submucosal and myenteric plexi of the small intestine, suggesting direct infection from the intestinal lumen. All cats excreted virus not only via the respiratory tract but also via the digestive tract. This study in cats demonstrates that H5N1 virus infection causes systemic disease and spreads by potentially novel routes within and between mammalian hosts.

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