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Open Access Research article

Highly pathogenic avian influenza A virus (H5N1) can be transmitted in ferrets by transfusion

Xue Wang1*, Jiying Tan1, Jiangqin Zhao1, Zhiping Ye2 and Indira Hewlett1*

Author Affiliations

1 Lab of Molecular Virology, Building 29B, Rm 4NN22, Division of Emerging and Transfusion Transmitted Diseases, CBER/FDA, 8800 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

2 Division of Viral Products, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:192  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-192

Published: 8 April 2014



Highly pathogenic avian influenza A virus has been shown to infect organs other than the lung, and this is likely to be mediated by systemic spread resulting from viremia which has been detected in blood in severe cases of infection with avian H5N1 viruses. The infectivity of virus in blood and the potential for virus transmission by transfusion has not been investigated.


Using a susceptible ferret animal model, we evaluated viremia and transmission by blood transfusion. Blood was collected on day 2, 4, 6, and 10 post-infection (or before death) from donor ferrets infected with either low dose (1.0 × 102.6 EID50/ml) or high dose (1.0 × 103.6 EID50/ml) of H5N1 virus, A/VN/1203/04 and transfused to recipient animals.


Viremia was observed in 2/12 (16.67%) recipients that received blood from donor ferrets infected with low dose and 7/12 (58.33%) recipients who received blood from high dose infected donors. 1/12 (8.3%) low dose recipients and 6/12 (50%) high dose recipients died within 11 days after transfusion. Increased changes in body weight and temperatures were observed in high dose recipients, and high levels of viral RNA were detected in recipient ferrets after transfusion of blood from the early viremic phase, which also correlated with adverse impact on their survival.


These data suggest that highly pathogenic avian influenza A virus, H5N1, is transmissible by blood transfusion in ferrets. Low levels of viremia were detected around the time of onset of symptoms and later in ferrets infected with highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. These findings may have implication for pathogenesis and transmissibility of H5N1.

H5N1; Transfusion; Viremia; Ferrets