Influenza A virus is a major pathogen of birds, swine and humans. Strains can jump between species in a process often requiring mutations and reassortment, resulting in outbreaks and, potentially, pandemics. H9N2 avian influenza is predominant in poultry across Asia and occasionally infects humans and swine. Pandemic H1N1 (H1N1pdm) is endemic in humans and swine and has a history of reassortment in pigs. Previous studies have shown the compatibility of H9N2 and H1N1pdm for reassortment in ferrets, a model for human infection and transmission. Here, the effects of ferret adaptation of H9 surface gene segments on the infectivity and transmission in at-risk natural hosts, specifically swine and quail, were analysed. Reassortant H9N1 and H9N2 viruses, carrying seven or six gene segments from H1N1pdm, showed infectivity and transmissibility in swine, unlike the wholly avian H9N2 virus with ferretadapted surface genes. In quail, only the reassortant H9N2 with the six internal gene segments from the H1N1pdm strain was able to infect and transmit, although less efficiently than the wholly avian H9N2 virus with ferret-adapted surface genes. These results highlight that ferretadapted mutations on the haemagglutinin of H9 subtype virus do not restrict the ability of the virus to infect swine and quail, and that the ability to transmit in these species depends on the context of the whole virus. As such, this study emphasizes the threat that H9N2 reassortant viruses pose to humans and agricultural species and the importance of the genetic constellation of the virus to its ability to replicate and transmit in natural hosts of influenza.
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