Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses of the H5N1 subtype are enzootic in poultry populations in different parts of the world, and have caused numerous human infections in recent years, particularly in Egypt. However, no sustained human-to-human transmission of these viruses has yet been reported. We tested nine naturally occurring Egyptian H5N1 viruses (isolated in 2014-2015) in ferrets and found that three of them transmitted via respiratory droplets, causing a fatal infection in one of the exposed animals. All isolates were sensitive to neuraminidase inhibitors. However, these viruses were not transmitted via respiratory droplets in three additional transmission experiments in ferrets. Currently, we do not know if the efficiency of transmission is very low or if subtle differences in experimental parameters contributed to these inconsistent results. Nonetheless, our findings heighten concern regarding the pandemic potential of recent Egyptian H5N1 influenza viruses.
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