1950s H2N2 pandemic influenza virus remains a serious health threat

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H2N2 influenza A viruses were the cause of the 1957-1958 pandemic. Historical evidence demonstrates they arose from avian virus ancestors, and while the H2N2 subtype has disappeared from humans, it persists in wild and domestic birds.

1950s H2N2 pandemic influenza virus

Reemergence of H2N2 in humans is a significant threat due to the absence of humoral immunity in individuals under the age of 50. Thus, examination of these viruses, particularly those from the avian reservoir, must be addressed through surveillance, characterization, and antiviral testing. The data presented here are a risk assessment of 22 avian H2N2 viruses isolated from wild and domestic birds over 6 decades. Our data show that they have a low rate of genetic and antigenic evolution and remained similar to isolates circulating near the time of the pandemic. Most isolates replicated in mice and human bronchial epithelial cells, but replication in swine tissues was low or absent. Multiple isolates replicated in ferrets, and 3 viruses were transmitted to direct-contact cage mates. Markers of mammalian adaptation in hemagglutinin (HA) and PB2 proteins were absent from all isolates, and they retained a preference for avian-like α2,3-linked sialic acid receptors. Most isolates remained antigenically similar to pandemic A/Singapore/1/57 (H2N2) virus, suggesting they could be controlled by the pandemic vaccine candidate. All viruses were susceptible to neuraminidase inhibitors and adamantanes. Nonetheless, the sustained pathogenicity of avian H2N2 viruses in multiple mammalian models elevates their risk potential for human infections and stresses the need for continual surveillance as a component of prepandemic planning.

Journal of Virology January 2014; 88 (2): 1175-1188.

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