The emergence and evolution of influenza A (H1α) viruses in swine in Canada and the United States

Today, we are sharing a recent publication on swine influenza in the Journal of General Virology. Dr. Marie Culhane from the University of Minnesota collaborated on this study of the genetic diversity of swine viruses in Canada and how it influences the strains found in the US.

The final data set included:

  • 168 genomes from Canadian swine influenza A viruses,
  • 5 genomes from highly under-represented US states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland and Montana),
  • 648 genomes from US and Canadian swine influenza A viruses (GenBank).

In total, these data represented 29 US states and 5 Canadian provinces.

Genetic diversity of influenza A viruses

In Canada, H1α viruses were the most frequently identified H1 viruses. In contrast, H1α viruses died out long ago in US herds, and have only been identified sporadically following new viral introductions from Canada. Notably, the two dominant H1 viruses in the United States, H1γ and H1δ-1, were not observed in any Canadian province during 2009–2016. In contrast to H1, H3 viruses are found in both the United States and Canada, with evidence of frequent cross-border transmission.

Sources of viral diversity

The study shows that the source of influenza viruses is aligned with pig movements. Indeed, Iowa and Minnesota receive around 87% of Manitoba swine exports. Therefore, the patterns of swine influenza viruses in those 2 US states correlate with the ones in Manitoba.

Similarly, viral gene patterns found in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Ohio are influenced by the ones found in Ontario. Indeed, it only takes 3 hours to transport pigs from Ontario to Michigan. However, North Carolina and Virginia are the largest source of viruses for this region.

 

pig-flow-and-sources-of-influenza-genetic-diversity.gif
Left: Each region is shaded according to the proportion of total ‘Markov jump’ counts from that particular region into the Heartland: red, high proportion of jumps, important source of viruses; light yellow, low proportion of jumps, not an important source of viruses; black, destination. Right: US states are shaded according to the number of live swine imported from Manitoba in 2015 (per 1000 head)

Abstract

Swine are a key reservoir host for influenza A viruses (IAVs), with the potential to cause global pandemics in humans. Gaps in surveillance in many of the world’s largest swine populations impede our understanding of how novel viruses emerge and expand their spatial range in pigs. Although US swine are intensively sampled, little is known about IAV diversity in Canada’s population of ~12 million pigs. By sequencing 168 viruses from multiple regions of Canada, our study reveals that IAV diversity has been underestimated in Canadian pigs for many years. Critically, a new H1 clade has emerged in Canada (H1α-3), with a two-amino acid deletion at H1 positions 146–147, that experienced rapid growth in Manitoba’s swine herds during 2014–2015. H1α-3 viruses also exhibit a higher capacity to invade US swine herds, resulting in multiple recent introductions of the virus into the US Heartland following large-scale movements of pigs in this direction. From the Heartland, H1α-3 viruses have disseminated onward to both the east and west coasts of the United States, and may become established in Appalachia. These findings demonstrate how long-distance trading of live pigs facilitates the spread of IAVs, increasing viral genetic diversity and complicating pathogen control. The proliferation of novel H1α-3 viruses also highlights the need for expanded surveillance in a Canadian swine population that has long been overlooked, and may have implications for vaccine design.

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