Vaccination decreases the risk of influenza A virus reassortment but not genetic variation in pigs

Today we are sharing a recent publication from the Torremorell lab in Microbiology and Infectious Disease regarding the impact of swine influenza A vaccination on the virus reassortment and on the genetic variation observable in pigs. The full article is available in open access on the journal’s website.

Swine influenza A viruses cause severe illness among pigs and financial losses on pig farms worldwide. These viruses can also infect humans and have caused deadly human pandemics in the past. Influenza A viruses are dangerous because viruses can be transferred between humans, birds and pigs. These co-infections can allow the viruses to swap genetic material. Viral genetic exchanges can result in new virus strains that are more dangerous or that can infect other types of animals more easily.

Farmers vaccinate their pigs to control the swine influenza A virus. The vaccines are regularly updated to match circulating virus strains. But the virus evolves rapidly to escape vaccine-induced immunity, and infections are common even in vaccinated pigs. Learning about how vaccination affects the evolution of influenza A viruses in pigs could help scientists prevent outbreaks on pig farms and avoid spillover pandemics in humans.

Li et al. show that influenza A viruses are less likely to swap genetic material in vaccinated and boosted pigs than in unvaccinated animals. In the experiments, Li et al. collected swine influenza A samples from the lungs of pigs that had received different vaccination protocols. Next, Li et al. used next-generation sequencing to identify new mutations in the virus or genetic swaps among different strains. In pigs infected with both the H1N1 and H3N2 strains of influenza, the two viruses began trading genes within a week. But less genetic mixing occurred in vaccinated and boosted pigs because they spent less time infected with both viruses than in unvaccinated pigs. The vaccination status of the pig did not have much effect on how many new mutations occurred in the viruses.

The experiments show that vaccinating and boosting pigs against influenza A viruses may protect against genetic swapping among influenza viruses. If future studies on pig farms confirm the results, the information gleaned from the study could help scientists improve farm vaccine protocols to further reduce influenza risks to animals and people.

Read the full article here.


Although vaccination is broadly used in North American swine breeding herds, managing swine influenza is challenging primarily due to the continuous evolution of influenza A virus (IAV) and the ability of the virus to transmit among vaccinated pigs. Studies that have simultaneously assessed the impact of vaccination on the emergence of IAV reassortment and genetic variation in pigs are limited. Here, we directly sequenced 28 bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) samples collected from vaccinated and unvaccinated pigs co-infected with H1N1 and H3N2 IAV strains, and characterized 202 individual viral plaques recovered from 13 BALF samples. We identified 54 reassortant viruses that were grouped in 17 single and 16 mixed genotypes. Notably, we found that prime-boost vaccinated pigs had less reassortant viruses than nonvaccinated pigs, likely due to a reduction in the number of days pigs were co-infected with both challenge viruses. However, direct sequencing from BALF samples revealed limited impact of vaccination on viral variant frequency, evolutionary rates, and nucleotide diversity in any IAV coding regions. Overall, our results highlight the value of IAV vaccination not only at limiting virus replication in pigs but also at protecting public health by restricting the generation of novel reassortants with zoonotic and/or pandemic potential.

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