Human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) is an important cause of severe respiratory tract disease in immunocompromised patients. Animal models are indispensable for evaluating novel intervention strategies in this complex patient population. To complement existing models in rodents and non-human primates, we have evaluated the potential benefits of an HRSV infection model in ferrets (Mustela putorius furo). Nine- to 12-month-old HRSV-seronegative immunocompetent or immunocompromised ferrets were infected with a low-passage wild-type strain of HRSV subgroup A (105 TCID50) administered by intra-tracheal or intra-nasal inoculation. Immune suppression was achieved by bi-daily oral administration of tacrolimus, mycophenolate mofetil, and prednisolone. Throat and nose swabs were collected daily and animals were euthanized four, seven, or 21 days post-infection (DPI). Virus loads were determined by quantitative virus culture and qPCR. We observed efficient HRSV replication in both the upper and lower respiratory tract. In immunocompromised ferrets, virus loads reached higher levels and showed delayed clearance as compared to those in immunocompetent animals. Histopathological evaluation of animals euthanized 4 DPI demonstrated that the virus replicated in the respiratory epithelial cells of the trachea, bronchi, and bronchioles. These animal models can contribute to an assessment of the efficacy and safety of novel HRSV intervention strategies.

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Keywords Animal models, Ferret, Immunocompromised host, Respiratory syncytial virus, Viral loads
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Journal Viruses
Stittelaar, K.J, de Waal, L, van Amerongen, G, Veldhuis Kroeze, E.J.B, Fraaij, P.L.A, van Baalen, C.A, … de Swart, R.L. (2016). Ferrets as a novel animal model for studying human respiratory syncytial virus infections in immunocompetent and immunocompromised hosts. Viruses, 8(6). doi:10.3390/v8060168