A constellation of strains co-circulate in pigs during influenza epidemics

This recent publication in Nature comes from the Torremorell’s lab and aims at answering the question of the number of strains circulating in pigs during an influenza outbreak and how genetically different they may be. The full article is available in open access, click on the banner below to access it.

Constellation influenza banner Torremorell

To answer the question of multiple strains of influenza in pigs, the group followed a cohort of 132 pigs placed in a 2,200-head a wean-to-finish barn, endemic for influenza. All the pigs originated from the same sow farm . The history of past influenza episodes did not include any information regarding the strain of viruses circulating in the barn. Nasal swabs were collected for each individual pig and were tested in the laboratory by PCR.

Results from this study showed that:

  • Only 2 pigs out of 132 tested negative every week during the entire duration of the study.
  • Around 88% of the pigs tested positive for influenza more than once.
  • 20.5% of pigs were positive for influenza at weaning.
  • Weekly influenza prevalence ranged between 0% and 65%.
  • 3 different viral groups were identified VG1, VG2, and VG3.
  • Groups belonged to the swine H1-gamma, H1-beta and H3-cluster-IV influenza A respectively. (Here is a review of the H1 genetic clades and one of the H3 genotype patterns)

The figure below shows the genetic make up of the influenza strains isolated each week, the viral group each genetic segment belonged to and the number of times this specific combination was found.

For example, the second line can be interpreted as: during week one, one sample in which 10 sequences were recovered, had influenza virus with segments 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 belonging to the Viral Group 1 (H1 gamma) and segments 6 and 8 were from Viral groups 1 and 3.

Influenza constellation Torremorell

In conclusion, this study shows that influenza infections in pigs after weaning and under field conditions are complex. The influenza virus genome is diverse and changes rapidly. Prolonged persistence of influenza viruses in pigs could be the result of multiple influenza epidemic events that take place repeatedly over time or the re-infection with influenza viruses that are closely related to each other.

Abstract

Swine play a key role in the ecology and transmission of influenza A viruses (IAVs) between species. However, the epidemiology and diversity of swine IAVs is not completely understood. In this cohort study, we sampled on a weekly basis 132 3-week old pigs for 15 weeks. We found two overlapping epidemic events of infection in which most pigs (98.4%) tested PCR positive for IAVs. The prevalence rate of infection ranged between 0 and 86% per week and the incidence density ranged between 0 and 71 cases per 100 pigs-week. Three distinct influenza viral groups (VGs) replicating as a “swarm” of viruses were identified (swine H1-gamma, H1-beta, and H3-cluster-IV IAVs) and co-circulated at different proportions over time suggesting differential allele fitness. Furthermore, using deep genome sequencing 13 distinct viral genome constellations were differentiated. Moreover, 78% of the pigs had recurrent infections with IAVs closely related to each other or IAVs clearly distinct. Our results demonstrated the molecular complexity of swine IAVs during natural infection of pigs in which novel strains of IAVs with zoonotic and pandemic potential can emerge. These are key findings to design better health interventions to reduce the transmission of swine IAVs and minimize the public health risk.