Influenza-induced thrombocytopenia is dependent on the subtype and sialoglycan receptor and increases with virus pathogenicity
Thrombocytopenia is a common complication of influenza virus infection, and its severity predicts the clinical outcome of critically ill patients. The underlying cause(s) remain incompletely understood. In this study, in patients with an influenza A/H1N1 virus infection, viral load and platelet count correlated inversely during the acute infection phase. We confirmed this finding in a ferret model of influenza virus infection. In these animals, platelet count decreased with the degree of virus pathogenicity varying from 0% in animals infected with the influenza A/H3N2 virus, to 22% in those with the pandemic influenza A/H1N1 virus, up to 62% in animals with a highly pathogenic A/H5N1 virus infection. This thrombocytopenia is associated with virus-containing platelets that circulate in the blood. Uptake of influenza virus particles by platelets requires binding to sialoglycans and results in the removal of sialic acids by the virus neuraminidase, a trigger for hepatic clearance of platelets. We propose the clearance of influenza virus by platelets as a paradigm. These insights clarify the pathophysiology of influenza virus infection and show how severe respiratory infections, including COVID-19, may propagate thrombocytopenia and/or thromboembolic complications.