By means of fluorescein-labelled antibody staining, specific influenza viral antigens were seen in both the cytoplasm and the nucleus of infected ciliated epithelial cells covering the nasal turbinates of infected ferrets. Initially, only a small portion of the nasal epithelium showed fluorescence, and no appreciable abnormality of the cells could be detected by hematoxylin and eosin staining. The fluorescence soon spread to involve the entire epithelium, followed by desquamation coinciding with the onset of manifest illness. Pneumonia was seen in some of the infected ferrets, and in them, viral antigens were found in the bronchial epithelium and in the mediastinal lymph nodes. A rise of viral infectivity titer paralleled the observed spread of viral antigens.
Many desquamated nasal epithelial cells and macrophages containing antigen were present in nasal smears. The finding would seem to offer a method for the rapid specific diagnosis of influenza infection.