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J Med Virol. 2011 Aug;83(8):1418-23. doi: 10.1002/jmv.22146.

Viral load of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus in infected human tissues.

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Department of Microbiology, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.


The highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) virus is a virulent virus that causes an acute febrile respiratory disease with high mortality in humans. To gain a better insight of H5N1 viral distributions in infected human tissues, the levels of viral RNA were determined in the autopsy tissues from two patients who were infected with H5N1 virus by using real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. In one patient who died on day 6 of the illness, the viral load in the lung was extremely high, whereas the levels of viral RNA in the other organs were more than 6 log lower. In the other patient who died on day 17 of the illness, the viral load was similar in the lung and other organs, and was comparable to the viral load in the extra-pulmonary tissues of the first patient. These results suggested that while the H5N1 virus can cause disseminated infection in humans, the lung is still the major site of viral replication, and viral replication in the lung in the later stages may decrease as a result of the depletion of the available target cells. In addition, the mRNA levels of the tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) were found to be associated with the viral titers.

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