Avian-like H5N1 influenza viruses isolated from humans in 1997 were shown to have two distinct pathogenic phenotypes in BALB/c mice, after intranasal inoculation and without prior adaptation to this host. To further understand the mechanisms of H5N1 pathogenicity, we investigated the consequences of the route of viral inoculation on morbidity and mortality, viral replication in pulmonary and systemic organs, and lymphocyte depletion. This study demonstrates the importance of extrapulmonary spread and replication, particularly in the brain, for the lethality of H5N1 viruses.
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