NOV 02, 2022 11:33 AM PDT

RSV & Influenza Can Combine to Form a New, Hybrid Virus

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

While different strains of influenza virus can co-infect cells and form hybrid flus, virus co-infections have tended to be rare. The pathogens often outcompete one another so that one can gain supremacy and get the resources it needs from its host. Last winter, some simultaneous cases of influenza and COVID-19 were observed, particularly in Brazil. The co-infection was dubbed flurona, and did not result in the production of any new type of virus. But researchers studying influenza and RSV (respiratory synctial virus) have now found that when both RSV and influenza viruses infect the same cell, they can fuse into an entirely new viral pathogen. The different, distinct components of the hybrid virus can even be seen in the microscope like a weird palm tree, with influenza A virus 'leaves' at the end of an RSV 'trunk.' The findings have been reported in Nature Microbiology.

Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)  Creative artwork featuring 3D renderings of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-a common contagious virus that infects the human respiratory tract-colorized in Halloween-appropriate colors (the viral envelope is magenta, G- glycoproteins are light purple, and F-glycoproteins are green). F-glycoproteins allow the virus to fuse with and infect human cells. Stay safe! Credit: NIAID

“Respiratory viruses exist as part of a community of many viruses that all target the same region of the body, like an ecological niche,” first study author Dr. Joanne Haney of the MRC-University of Glasgow centre for virus research, told The Guardian. “We need to understand how these infections occur within the context of one another to gain a fuller picture of the biology of each individual virus.”

“This kind of hybrid virus has never been described before,” added corresponding study author Professor Pablo Murcia of the University of Glasgow. “We are talking about viruses from two completely different families combining together with the genomes and the external proteins of both viruses. It is a new type of virus pathogen.”

When the two viruses came together, the hybrid seemed to be able to infect more types of cells, and was better at infecting a higher proportion of them. The hybrid virus was able to move into cells that did not have influenza A receptors. It may be possible for the hybrid virus to move further into the respiratory system by infecting more cell types, which could potentially lead to a more severe infection or outcome.

The researchers also found that particles of influenza A virus could evade immunity by displaying antigens from RSV surface proteins.

RSV did not benefit from the formation of the hybrid. When influenza A was present, there was significantly less viral replication of RSV.

However, all of these findings were based on data collected from cells that were growing in culture. More research will be needed, and potentially, clinical studies of patients, to determined whether this is happening in people and how they would be affected if a hybrid virus formed.

Unfortunately, scientists may get a chance to study a flu and RSV co-infection, with both viruses circulating widely at this time.

Experts, such as Dr. Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, have noted that this research provides even more evidence that we should take preventive measures to avoid being infected with any virus, or more than one virus at once.

Sources: The Guardian, Nature Microbiology

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 24, 2022
Neuroscience
Frankenworld: Should We Be Afraid of Playing God or Failing To Love Our Monsters?
Frankenworld: Should We Be Afraid of Playing God or Failing To Love Our Monsters?
Lawyer Henry T. Greely analyzes the relevance of Mary Shelley's classic, "Frankenstein," in light of today's bioscience
OCT 21, 2022
Coronavirus
Recognizing the Importance of SARS-CoV-2 'Accessory' Genes
Recognizing the Importance of SARS-CoV-2 'Accessory' Genes
The genome of the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is very small. But it encodes for more than just the spike pro ...
OCT 28, 2022
Immunology
A Mysterious Molecule That Enables Viruses to Overcome Immunity
A Mysterious Molecule That Enables Viruses to Overcome Immunity
Viruses can infect many different kinds of cells, and those cells can often react directly to the infection. When bacter ...
OCT 31, 2022
Plants & Animals
Innovative Insecticides Adversely Affect Bee Health
Innovative Insecticides Adversely Affect Bee Health
Insecticides and pesticides have been developed for years to help protect agricultural products and improve crop outputs ...
DEC 28, 2022
Health & Medicine
New weapon against antimicrobial resistance strikes down bacterial cell walls
New weapon against antimicrobial resistance strikes down bacterial cell walls
For millennia the arms race between bacteria and animals was fought through mutations and evolution. As modern bacteria ...
JAN 25, 2023
Coronavirus
COVID-19 Linked to Hemorrhages in Fetal Brains
COVID-19 Linked to Hemorrhages in Fetal Brains
Research has shown that when fetuses and pregnant women are exposed to viruses, there is an increased risk of neurologic ...
Loading Comments...