Seasonal influenza viruses create a persistent global disease burden by evolving to escape immunity induced by prior infections and vaccinations. New antigenic variants have a substantial selective advantage at the population level, but these variants are rarely selected within-host, even in previously immune individuals. Using a mathematical model, we show that the temporal asynchrony between within-host virus exponential growth and antibody-mediated selection could limit within-host antigenic evolution. If selection for new antigenic variants acts principally at the point of initial virus inoculation, where small virus populations encounter well-matched mucosal antibodies in previously infected individuals, there can exist protection against reinfection that does not regularly produce observable new antigenic variants within individual infected hosts. Our results provide a theoretical explanation for how virus antigenic evolution can be highly selective at the global level but nearly neutral within host. They also suggest new avenues for improving influenza control.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)