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Limited onward transmission potential of reassortment genotypes from chickens co-infected with H9N2 and H7N9 avian influenza viruses


Co-infection of chickens with zoonotic H7N9 & H9N2 avian influenza viruses (AIV) resulted in the emergence of novel reassortants with variable transmission efficiency to contact chickens. Findings are important to understand the reassortment as a major pathway for AIV evolution.


The segmented genome of influenza A virus has conferred significant evolutionary advantages to this virus through genetic reassortment, a mechanism that facilitates the rapid expansion of viral genetic diversity upon influenza co-infections. Therefore, co-infection of genetically diverse avian influenza viruses in poultry may pose a significant public health risk in generating novel reassortants with increased zoonotic potential. This study investigated the reassortment patterns of a Pearl River Delta-lineage avian influenza A(H7N9) virus and four genetically divergent avian influenza A(H9N2) viruses upon co-infection in embryonated chicken eggs and chickens. To characterize “within-host” and “between-host” genetic diversity, we further monitored the viral genotypes that were subsequently transmitted to contact chickens in serial transmission experiments. We observed that co-infection with A(H7N9) and A(H9N2) viruses may lead to the emergence of novel reassortant viruses in ovo and in chickens, albeit with different reassortment patterns. Novel reassortants detected in donor chickens co-infected with different combinations of the same A(H7N9) virus and different A(H9N2) viruses showed distinct onward transmission potential to contact chickens. Sequential transmission of novel reassortant viruses was only observed in one out of four co-infection combinations. Our results demonstrated different patterns by which influenza viruses may acquire genetic diversity through co-infection in ovoin vivo, and under sequential transmission conditions.