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Hemagglutinin stability as a key determinant of influenza A virus transmission via air.

To cause pandemics, zoonotic respiratory viruses need to adapt to replication in and spread between humans, either via (indirect or direct) contact or through the air via droplets and aerosols. To render influenza A viruses transmissible via air, three phenotypic viral properties must change, of which receptor-binding specificity and polymerase activity have been well studied. However, the third adaptive property, hemagglutinin (HA) acid stability, is less understood. Recent studies show that there may be a correlation between HA acid stability and virus survival in the air, suggesting that a premature conformational change of HA, triggered by low pH in the airways or droplets, may render viruses noninfectious before they can reach a new host. We here summarize available data from (animal) studies on the impact of HA acid stability on airborne transmission and hypothesize that the transmissibility of other respiratory viruses may also be impacted by an acidic environment in the airways.

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