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Influenza A viruses cause recurrent outbreaks at local or global scale with potentially severe consequences for human health and the global economy. Recently, a new strain of influenza A virus was detected that causes disease in and transmits among humans, probably owing to little or no pre-existing immunity to the new strain. On 11 June 2009 the World Health Organization declared that the infections caused by the new strain had reached pandemic proportion. Characterized as an influenza A virus of the H1N1 subtype, the genomic segments of the new strain were most closely related to swine viruses (Novel Swine-Origin Influenza A [H1N1] Virus Investigation Team, 2009). Most human infections with swine origin H1N1 influenza viruses (S-OIVs) seem to be mild; however, a substantial number of hospitalized individuals do not have underlying health issues, attesting to the pathogenic potential of S-OIVs. To achieve a better assessment of the risk posed by the new virus, we characterized one of the first US S-OIV isolates, A/California/04/09 (H1N1; hereafter referred to as CA04), as well as several other S-OIV isolates, in vitro and in vivo. In mice and ferrets, CA04 and other S-OIV isolates tested replicate more efficiently than a currently circulating human H1N1 virus. In addition, CA04 replicates efficiently in non-human primates, causes more severe pathological lesions in the lungs of infected mice, ferrets and non-human primates than a currently circulating human H1N1 virus, and transmits among ferrets. In specific-pathogen-free miniature pigs, CA04 replicates without clinical symptoms. The assessment of human sera from different age groups suggests that infection with human H1N1 viruses antigenically closely related to viruses circulating in 1918 confers neutralizing antibody activity to CA04. Finally, we show that CA04 is sensitive to approved and experimental antiviral drugs, suggesting that these compounds could function as a first line of defence against the recently declared S-OIV pandemic.

Sequence analyses of recently emerged swine-origin H1N1 viruses (S-OIVs) revealed the absence of markers associated with high pathogenicity in avian and/or mammalian species, such as a multibasic haemagglutinin (HA) cleavage site (Kawaoka and Webster, 1988) or lysine at position 627 of the PB2 protein (Hatta et al., 2001). To characterize the new viruses in vitro and in vivo, we amplified the following S-OIVs in Madin–Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells: A/California/04/09 (CA04), A/Wisconsin/WSLH049/09 (WSLH049), A/Wisconsin/WSLH34939/09 (WSLH34939), A/Netherlands/603/09 (Net603) and A/Osaka/164/09 (Osaka164). WSLH34939 was isolated from a patient who required hospitalization, whereas the remaining viruses were isolated from mild cases. These viruses represent the currently recognized neuraminidase (NA) variants among S-OIVs: CA04, NA-106V, NA-248N; Osaka164, NA-106I, NA-248N; WSLH049, NA-106I, NA-248D; WSLH34939, NA-106I, NA-248D; and Net603, NA-106V, NA-248N.

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