Contact between bird species of different lifespans can promote the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza strains.
Wikramaratna PS., Pybus OG., Gupta S.
Outbreaks of highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza viruses (AIVs) cause considerable economic losses to the poultry industry and also pose a threat to human life. The possibility that one of these strains will evolve to become transmissible between humans, sparking a major influenza pandemic, is a matter of great concern. Most studies so far have focused on assessing these odds from the perspective of the intrinsic mutability of AIV rather than the ecological constraints to invasion faced by the virus population. Here we present an alternative multihost model for the evolution of AIV in which the mode and tempo of mutation play a limited role, with the emergence of strains being determined instead principally by the prevailing profile of population-level immunity. We show that (i) many of the observed differences in influenza virus dynamics among species can be captured by our model by simply varying host lifespan and (ii) increased contact between species of different lifespans can promote the emergence of potentially more virulent strains that were hitherto suppressed in one of the species.