Predicting Zoonotic Risk of Influenza A Viruses from Host Tropism Protein Signature Using Random Forest
BACKGROUND Human infection with avian influenza A H7N9 virus emerged in eastern China in February, 2013, and has been associated with exposure to poultry. We report the clinical and microbiological features of patients infected with influenza A H7N9 virus and compare genomic features of the human virus with those of the virus in market poultry in Zhejiang, China. METHODS Between March 7 and April 8, 2013, we included hospital inpatients if they had new-onset respiratory symptoms, unexplained radiographic infiltrate, and laboratory-confirmed H7N9 virus infection. We recorded histories and results of haematological, biochemical, radiological, and microbiological investigations. We took throat and sputum samples, used RT-PCR to detect M, H7, and N9 genes, and cultured samples in Madin-Darby canine kidney cells. We tested for co-infections and monitored serum concentrations of six cytokines and chemokines. We collected cloacal swabs from 86 birds from epidemiologically linked wet markets and inoculated embryonated chicken eggs with the samples. We identified and subtyped isolates by RT-PCR sequencing. RNA extraction, complementary DNA synthesis, and PCR sequencing were done for one human and one chicken isolate. We characterised and phylogenetically analysed the eight gene segments of the viruses in the patient's and the chicken's isolates, and constructed phylogenetic trees of H, N, PB2, and NS genes. FINDINGS We identified four patients (mean age 56 years), all of whom had contact with poultry 3-8 days before disease onset. They presented with fever and rapidly progressive pneumonia that did not respond to antibiotics. Patients were leucopenic and lymphopenic, and had impaired liver or renal function, substantially increased serum cytokine or chemokine concentrations, and disseminated intravascular coagulation with disease progression. Two patients died. Sputum specimens were more likely to test positive for the H7N9 virus than were samples from throat swabs. The viral isolate from the patient was closely similar to that from an epidemiologically linked market chicken. All viral gene segments were of avian origin. The H7 of the isolated viruses was closest to that of the H7N3 virus from domestic ducks in Zhejiang, whereas the N9 was closest to that of the wild bird H7N9 virus in South Korea. We noted Gln226Leu and Gly186Val substitutions in human virus H7 (associated with increased affinity for α-2,6-linked sialic acid receptors) and the PB2 Asp701Asn mutation (associated with mammalian adaptation). Ser31Asn mutation, which is associated with adamantane resistance, was noted in viral M2. INTERPRETATION Cross species poultry-to-person transmission of this new reassortant H7N9 virus is associated with severe pneumonia and multiorgan dysfunction in human beings. Monitoring of the viral evolution and further study of disease pathogenesis will improve disease management, epidemic control, and pandemic preparedness. FUNDING Larry Chi-Kin Yung, National Key Program for Infectious Diseases of China.