Types of influenza virus
In virus classification influenza viruses are RNA viruses that make up three of the five genera of the family Orthomyxoviridae:
- Influenzavirus A
- Influenzavirus B
- Influenzavirus C
These viruses are only distantly related to the human parainfluenza viruses, which are RNA viruses belonging to the paramyxovirus family that are a common cause of respiratory infections in children such as croup, but can also cause a disease similar to influenza in adults.
This genus has one species, influenza A virus. Wild aquatic birds are the natural hosts for a large variety of influenza A. Occasionally, viruses are transmitted to other species and may then cause devastating outbreaks in domestic poultry or give rise to human influenza pandemics.
The type A viruses are the most virulent human pathogens among the three influenza types and cause the most severe disease. The influenza A virus can be subdivided into different serotypes based on the antibody response to these viruses.
- H1N2, endemic in humans and pigs
This genus has one species, influenza B virus. Influenza B almost exclusively infects humans and is less common than influenza A.
The only other animals known to be susceptible to influenza B infection are the seal and the ferret.
This type of influenza mutates at a rate 2–3 times slower than type A and consequently is less genetically diverse, with only one influenza B serotype.
This reduced rate of antigenic change, combined with its limited host range (inhibiting cross species antigenic shift), ensures that pandemics of influenza B do not occur.
This genus has one species, influenza C virus, which infects humans, dogs and pigs, sometimes causing both severe illness and local epidemics.
Structure, properties, and subtype nomenclature
Influenzaviruses A, B and C are very similar in overall structure. The virus particle is 80–120 nanometres in diameter and usually roughly spherical, although filamentous forms can occur. These filamentous forms are more common in influenza C, which can form cordlike structures up to 500 micrometres long on the surfaces of infected cells.
Hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) are the two large glycoproteins on the outside of the viral particles.
HA is a lectin that mediates binding of the virus to target cells and entry of the viral genome into the target cell, while NA is involved in the release of progeny virus from infected cells, by cleaving sugars that bind the mature viral particles. Thus, these proteins are targets for antiviral drugs.
Furthermore, they are antigens to which antibodies can be raised. Influenza A viruses are classified into subtypes based on antibody responses to HA and NA. These different types of HA and NA form the basis of the ''H'' and ''N'' distinctions in, for example, ''H5N1''.
Viruses can only replicate in living cells. Influenza infection and replication is a multi-step process: firstly the virus has to bind to and enter the cell, then deliver its genome to a site where it can produce new copies of viral proteins and RNA, assemble these components into new viral particles and finally exit the host cell.
Influenza viruses bind through hemagglutinin onto sialic acid sugars on the surfaces of epithelial cells; typically in the nose, throat and lungs of mammals and intestines of birds. After the hemagglutinin is cleaved by a protease, the cell imports the virus by endocytosis.
Once inside the cell, the acidic conditions in the endosome cause two events to happen: first part of the hemagglutinin protein fuses the viral envelope with the vacuole's membrane, then the M2 ion channel allows protons to move through the viral envelope and acidify the core of the virus, which causes the core to dissemble and release the viral RNA and core proteins. The M2 ion channel is blocked by amantadine drugs, preventing infection.
These core proteins and vRNA form a complex that is transported into the cell nucleus, where the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase begins transcribing complementary positive-sense vRNA.
The vRNA is either exported into the cytoplasm and translated, or remains in the nucleus.
Newly synthesised viral proteins are either secreted through the Golgi apparatus onto the cell surface (in the case of neuraminidase and hemagglutinin) or transported back into the nucleus to bind vRNA and form new viral genome particles.
Other viral proteins have multiple actions in the host cell, including degrading cellular mRNA and using the released nucleotides for vRNA synthesis and also inhibiting translation of host-cell mRNAs.
Negative-sense vRNAs that form the genomes of future viruses, RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, and other viral proteins are assembled into a virion.
Hemagglutinin and neuraminidase molecules cluster into a bulge in the cell membrane. The vRNA and viral core proteins leave the nucleus and enter this membrane protrusion.
The mature virus buds off from the cell in a sphere of host phospholipid membrane, acquiring hemagglutinin and neuraminidase with this membrane coat.
As before, the viruses adhere to the cell through hemagglutinin; the mature viruses detach once their neuraminidase has cleaved sialic acid residues from the host cell.
The separation of the genome into eight separate segments of vRNA allows mixing or reassortment of vRNAs if more than one type of influenza virus infects a single cell. The resulting rapid change in viral genetics produces antigenic shifts, which are sudden changes from one antigen to another.
These sudden large changes allow the virus to infect new host species and quickly overcome protective immunity. Many people are so ill that they are confined to bed for several days, with aches and pains throughout their bodies, which are worse in their backs and legs. (may be severe in children with influenza B).
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011