Seven years ago, a South Dakota State University research team isolated an unknown flu virus, later categorized as influenza D virus (IDV), in a diseased pig. Since then, some of the same research group identified influenza D antibodies in cattle, goats, sheep and horses, and proved that the guinea pig can serve as an animal model to study the virus.
Now, some of these researchers are turning their attention to study how influenza D infects cells to evaluate the likelihood of the virus becoming a risk to humans. They just received a five-year, $2.6 million National Institutes of Health Research Project grant to further their research.
“This helps us maintain our momentum,” said Professor Feng Li, a virologist in the Department of Biology and Microbiology in the College of Natural Sciences at South Dakota State University. He leads a research team that includes professor and assistant department head Radhey Kaushik and assistant research professor Dan Wang.
While the influenza D virus has not been shown to cause disease in humans, the researchers said that humans do not have pre-existing immunity to influenza D. They will focus on how the virus replicates, in preparation for development of vaccines or antiviral drugs if needed.
“Influenza D has not been shown to be pathogenic in humans, so no one should be afraid. However, we need to know more about the virus, so we can be ahead of it should it become a threat to humans,” Kaushik explained. Several small studies have found influenza D antibodies in blood samples from humans, many of whom work closely with animals.
Previous research shows that influenza D is the most stable of the four influenza viruses. If influenza D would one day jump from animals to humans, influenza could potentially become a year-round health problem, Wang said.
“This research will pave the path to devising strategies to control virus transmission in different animal species and in humans,” Kaushik said.