Avian influenza infects horses in Asia but lacks ability to spread

Avian flu viruses appear to struggle to acquire the necessary changes in their genome to adapt to horses, according to scientists.

Researchers have found that avian influenza viruses infect horses in Mongolia but do not cause large outbreaks of disease because they failed to acquire key genetic changes to enable greater cross-species transmissibility.

These findings are contained in a study published this week in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens.

Pablo Murcia, of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, and his colleagues say that future studies aimed at understanding those blocks to cross-species transmission using avian and equine influenza viruses could provide valuable insights into the mechanisms and determinants that underpin influenza emergence in mammals.

Viral diseases pose a constant threat to humans and animals. Occasionally, viruses establish in new hosts, sometimes with devastating consequences.

It is not clear what allows a virus to infect and become transmissible in a new population, but ecology and evolution play an important part in this process.

Influenza A viruses constitute the archetypical example of emerging viruses: their main natural reservoir is in wild birds, but they have also established in humans, pigs and horses.

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