A comparison was made, both in vivo and in organ culture, between newborn (1-day-old) and suckling (15-day-old) ferrets of lower respiratory tract tissue infected with a virulent strain (clone 7a) of influenza virus. Newborn ferrets were killed by influenza virus following intranasal inoculation but suckling ferrets were almost as resistant as adult ferrets. In newborn ferrets there was a rapid, severe and progressive infection of lung tissue with infection of alveolar cells as well as those of bronchial and bronchiolar epithelium (assessed by monitoring virus infectivity and by fluorescent antibody staining). In suckling ferrets, as previously shown for adult animals, the lung infection was less severe, less persistent and confined to the epithelium of bronchi with only a small bronchiolar involvement and even less alveolar cell infection. These differences observed in vivo were repeated in organ cultures obtained from various areas of the lung. i.e. alveolar and airway epithelial cells of newborn ferrets exhibited a greater susceptibility than those of older ferrets. Thus, it appears that one factor determining the greater susceptibility of the lower respiratory tract of newborn ferrets is a greater inherent susceptibility of alveolar and airway epithelial cells to infection with influenza virus. Other factors may also be involved and have yet to be investigated.
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