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Egyptian Fruit Bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus) Were Resistant to Experimental Inoculation with Avian-Origin Influenza A Virus of Subtype H9N2, But Are Susceptible to Experimental Infection with Bat-Borne H9N2 Virus

Influenza A viruses (IAV) of subtype H9N2, endemic in world-wide poultry holdings, are reported to cause spill-over infections to pigs and humans and have also contributed substantially to recent reassortment-derived pre-pandemic zoonotic viruses of concern, such as the Asian H7N9 viruses. Recently, a H9N2 bat influenza A virus was found in Egyptian fruit bats (Rousettus aegyptiacus), raising the question of whether this bat species is a suitable host for IAV. Here, we studied the susceptibility, pathogenesis and transmission of avian and bat-related H9N2 viruses in this new host. In a first experiment, we oronasally inoculated six Egyptian fruit bats with an avian-related H9N2 virus (A/layer chicken/Bangladesh/VP02-plaque/2016 (H9N2)). In a second experiment, six Egyptian fruit bats were inoculated with the newly discovered bat-related H9N2 virus (A/bat/Egypt/381OP/2017 (H9N2)). While R. aegyptiacus turned out to be refractory to an infection with H9N2 avian-type, inoculation with the bat H9N2 subtype established a productive infection in all inoculated animals with a detectable seroconversion at day 21 post-infection. In conclusion, Egyptian fruit bats are most likely not susceptible to the avian H9N2 subtype, but can be infected with fruit bat-derived H9N2. H9-specific sero-reactivities in fruit bats in the field are therefore more likely the result of contact with a bat-adapted H9N2 strain.

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