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Open Access Highly Accessed Comment

Dangerous for ferrets: lethal for humans?

Peter C Doherty12 and Paul G Thomas2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Melbourne, Vic 3010, Australia

2 Department of Immunology, St Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, TN 38105, USA

BMC Biology 2012, 10:10  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-10-10

Published: 20 February 2012

First paragraph (this article has no abstract)

The influenza A viruses remain our most serious, known pandemic threat [1]. The possibility that a H5N1 high-pathogenicity avian influenza A virus (HPAI) could cross over to become established in humans has been a very real concern for more than a decade. As a consequence, it was big news at the recent Malta ESWI [2] meeting when Ron Fouchier from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam announced that he had serially passaged an HPAI H5N1 virus in ferrets and achieved 'natural' ferret-to-ferret transmission. The first isolation ever (1933) of a human influenza A virus was in ferrets, and virologists generally regard these mustelids as the optimal model for most aspects of human influenza, including spread. It was not highlighted in Malta, but we learned later that Yoshi Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin, Madison had similar findings, though he started with a virus that had been genetically modified in ways that might be expected to make it less virulent. It seems that others were also trying with reverse genetics approaches, but failed.