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J Virol . Detection of Airborne Influenza A and SARS-CoV-2 Virus Shedding following Ocular Inoculation of Ferrets

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  • J Virol . Detection of Airborne Influenza A and SARS-CoV-2 Virus Shedding following Ocular Inoculation of Ferrets

    J Virol

    . 2022 Nov 30;e0140322.
    doi: 10.1128/jvi.01403-22. Online ahead of print.
    Detection of Airborne Influenza A and SARS-CoV-2 Virus Shedding following Ocular Inoculation of Ferrets

    Jessica A Belser 1 , Xiangjie Sun 1 , Troy J Kieran 1 , Nicole Brock 1 , Joanna A Pulit-Penaloza 1 , Claudia Pappas 1 , Poulami Basu Thakur 1 , Joyce Jones 1 , David E Wentworth 1 , Bin Zhou 1 , Terrence M Tumpey 1 , Taronna R Maines 1



    Despite reports of confirmed human infection following ocular exposure with both influenza A virus (IAV) and SARS-CoV-2, the dynamics of virus spread throughout oculonasal tissues and the relative capacity of virus transmission following ocular inoculation remain poorly understood. Furthermore, the impact of exposure route on subsequent release of airborne viral particles into the air has not been examined previously. To assess this, ferrets were inoculated by the ocular route with A(H1N1)pdm09 and A(H7N9) IAVs and two SARS-CoV-2 (early pandemic Washington/1 and Delta variant) viruses. Virus replication was assessed in both respiratory and ocular specimens, and transmission was evaluated in direct contact or respiratory droplet settings. Viral RNA in aerosols shed by inoculated ferrets was quantified with a two-stage cyclone aerosol sampler (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH]). All IAV and SARS-CoV-2 viruses mounted a productive and transmissible infection in ferrets following ocular inoculation, with peak viral titers and release of virus-laden aerosols from ferrets indistinguishable from those from ferrets inoculated by previously characterized intranasal inoculation methods. Viral RNA was detected in ferret conjunctival washes from all viruses examined, though infectious virus in this specimen was recovered only following IAV inoculation. Low-dose ocular-only aerosol exposure or inhalation aerosol exposure of ferrets to IAV similarly led to productive infection of ferrets and shedding of aerosolized virus. Viral evolution during infection was comparable between all inoculation routes examined. These data support that both IAV and SARS-CoV-2 can establish a high-titer mammalian infection following ocular exposure that is associated with rapid detection of virus-laden aerosols shed by inoculated animals. IMPORTANCE Documented human infection with influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2 has been reported among individuals wearing respiratory protection in the absence of eye protection, highlighting the capacity of these respiratory tract-tropic viruses to exploit nonrespiratory routes of exposure to initiate productive infection. However, comprehensive evaluations of how ocular exposure may modulate virus pathogenicity and transmissibility in mammals relative to respiratory exposure are limited and have not investigated multiple virus families side by side. Using the ferret model, we show that ocular exposure with multiple strains of either coronaviruses or influenza A viruses leads to an infection that results in shedding of detectable aerosolized virus from inoculated animals, contributing toward onward transmission of both viruses to susceptible contacts. Collectively, these studies support that the ocular surface represents a susceptible mucosal surface that, if exposed to a sufficient quantity of either virus, permits establishment of an infection which is similarly transmissible as that following respiratory exposure.

    Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; aerosols; influenza; ocular.