Background: Pandemic influenza poses a serious threat to global health and the world economy. While vaccines are currently under development, passive immunization could offer an alternative strategy to prevent and treat influenza virus infection. Attempts to develop monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) have been made. However, passive immunization based on mAbs may require a cocktail of mAbs with broader specificity in order to provide full protection since mAbs are generally specific for single epitopes. Chicken immunoglobulins (IgY) found in egg yolk have been used mainly for treatment of infectious diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Because the recent epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) strain H5N1 has resulted in serious economic losses to the poultry industry, many countries including Vietnam have introduced mass vaccination of poultry with H5N1 virus vaccines. We reasoned that IgY from consumable eggs available in supermarkets in Vietnam could provide protection against infections with HPAIV H5N1. Methods and Findings: We found that H5N1-specific IgY that are prepared from eggs available in supermarkets in Vietnam by a rapid and simple water dilution method cross-protect against infections with HPAIV H5N1 and related H5N2 strains in mice. When administered intranasally before or after lethal infection, the IgY prevent the infection or significantly reduce viral replication resulting in complete recovery from the disease, respectively. We further generated H1N1 virus-specific IgY by immunization of hens with inactivated H1N1 A/PR/8/34 as a model virus for the current pandemic H1N1/09 and found that such H1N1-specific IgY protect mice from lethal influenza virus infection. Conclusions: The findings suggest that readily available H5N1-specific IgY offer an enormous source of valuable biological material to combat a potential H5N1 pandemic. In addition, our study provides a proof-of-concept for the approach using virus-specific IgY as affordable, safe, and effective alternative for the control of influenza outbreaks, including the current H1N1 pandemic.
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