The new hybrid virus evades the immune system

The researchers determined that RSV and influenza viruses had merged to form a new type of viral pathogen.

Two common respiratory viruses can fuse to form a hybrid virus that can evade the human immune system and infect lung cells – the first time such viral cooperation has been observed. The researchers believe the findings may help explain why co-infections can lead to significantly more severe disease in some patients, including hard-to-treat viral pneumonia, reports the The Guardian.

About 5 million people worldwide are hospitalized with influenza A each year, while respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading cause of acute lower respiratory tract infections in children under five years of age and can cause serious illness in some children and older adults. Although co-infections, when a person is infected with both viruses at the same time, are considered relatively common, it was not clear how these viruses would react if they found themselves in the same cell.

“Respiratory viruses exist as part of a community of many viruses that all target the same part of the body, like an ecological niche” – He told Dr. Joanne Haney, is an employee of the MRC-University of Glasgow virus research center, the leader of the study. – “We need to understand how these infections are related to each other in order to get a more complete picture of the biology of each virus.


For the investigation Haney and his colleagues deliberately infected human lung cells with both viruses and saw that instead of competing with each other, as we know for some other viruses, they fused together to form a hybrid virus shaped like a palm tree—RSV formed the trunk and influenza formed the leaves.

“Such a hybrid virus has never been encountered before” – He told Paul Murcia professor who led the research published in the journal Nature Microbiology. – “We are talking about two viruses from completely different families that combine with each other, with the genome and external proteins of both viruses. It is a new type of viral pathogen”.

Once established, the hybrid virus was able to infect neighboring cells—even in the presence of flu antibodies that normally block infection. Although the antibodies still attached to the flu proteins on the surface of the hybrid virus, the virus instead used only the neighboring RSV proteins to infect the lung cells. Murcia said: “Influenza uses hybrid virus particles as Trojan horses”.

In addition to allowing viruses to evade the immune system in this way, the combined forces may allow them to gain access to a wider range of lung cells. While influenza usually infects cells in the nose, throat, and trachea, RSV prefers cells in the trachea and lungs—although there is some overlap.

H1N1 flu


“It may increase the chance that the flu will cause a serious, sometimes fatal lung infection called viral pneumonia” – He told Dr. Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds. Although he cautioned that more research is needed to prove that hybrid viruses play a role in human disease. – “RSV tends to travel lower in the lungs than the seasonal flu virus, and the lower the infection, the more likely you are to get more severe disease.” – He told.

This is another reason to avoid getting infected with multiple viruses, because hybridization is more likely to happen if we don’t take precautions to protect our health. It is significant that the research team showed that the hybrid viruses are able to infect cultured cell layers as well as individual respiratory cells. This is important because the cells adhere to each other in an authentic way and the virus particles have to go in and out in the right way” – He told Griffin.

The next step is to confirm whether, and if so, which hybrid viruses can develop in co-infected patients.

“We need to know if this only occurs with influenza and RSV or if it extends to other combinations of viruses as well” – He told Murcia. – “I think yes. And I assume this extends to animal viruses as well. This is just the beginning of what I think will be a long journey of hopefully very interesting discoveries.”

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