Tag Archives: influenza

H7N9 Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) Vaccine Trials Begin

Avian influenza (or bird flu) is a ‘zoonotic infection’ (meaning it is transmitted to humans via animals) caused by viruses that have adapted to affect birds. It primarily affects poultry, such as chicken and ducks. Human infection predominantly occurs via direct contact with infected birds or poultry – their droppings or their contaminated environment – or by handling live or dead birds. The avian influenza virus strains are distinct from human seasonal influenza, and humans have little immune protection as this type of viral infection is relatively uncommon. Clinical presentation of avian influenza in humans includes eye infections (conjunctivitis), flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches), or severe respiratory illness (e.g., chest infection).

In the past, the H5N1 strain of influenza virus has been responsible for most human illnesses that have been caused by avian influenza. However, H7N9 now rivals H5N1 as a potential cause of a human pandemic. H7N9 had not been seen in humans until infections were reported in March, 2013, in China. It had previously been isolated to outbreaks in birds in Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.S. Since then, six waves of H7N9 infection have occurred in China, resulting in more than 1,500 cumulative human infections, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most cases of human infection with the avian H7N9 virus reported they had had recent exposure to live poultry or potentially contaminated environments, especially markets where live birds were being sold.

Current evidence suggests this virus has not acquired the ability to regularly transmit from human to human, except for small clusters of reported cases which predominantly involved healthcare workers. While a small proportion of human H7N9 illnesses have been mild, most patients have become seriously ill, developing severe respiratory symptoms that required hospitalization and intensive care, and 32 percent diedH7N9 can infect poultry without causing clinical symptoms, which makes monitoring its spread difficult. Health officials reckon the situation is under control, but this could change quickly given avian influenza’s ability to change rapidly. Experts fear that further genomic mutations will lead to the virus binding to human cells, ultimately leading to increased human-to-human transmission.

There is, currently, no vaccine to protect against H7N9. However, two new clinical trials testing an experimental vaccine to prevent H7N9 infection are now enrolling volunteers across the United States. The studies, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), will test different dosages of the inactivated influenza vaccine candidate (called 2017 H7N9 IIV), as well as different vaccination schedules. The studies also will evaluate whether an adjuvant would be helpful in boosting the immune responses of people receiving the vaccine. The vaccine has been developed by Sanofi Pasteur with support from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIAID director, said in a statement:

“As we experience one of the worst seasonal influenza epidemics in recent years, here in the United States, we also must maintain a scientific focus on novel influenza viruses, such as H7N9, that have the potential to cause a pandemic.”

One clinical trial, led by principal investigator, Dr. Lisa A. Jackson, of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, will test the vaccine candidate in various dosages, both with and without the AS03 adjuvant. The second clinical trial will be led by Dr. Kathleen M. Neuzil of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. This trial will test the H7N9 vaccine candidate with AS03 adjuvant in conjunction with a quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccine. For more information about the two clinical studies, please check out the Questions and Answers.

Germicidal UV.

Far-ultraviolet lamps could eradicate airborne viruses in public spaces — with no risk to us

Flooding public spaces with far-UVC light, a type of ultraviolet light that’s harmless to humans, could finally spell the end of seasonal flu epidemics.

Germicidal UV.

Germicidal UV tube.
Image via Wikimedia.

Continuous but low doses of far-ultraviolet C light (far-UVC) will kill airborne flu viruses while leaving human cells unscathed, new research has found. Their use in hospitals, doctors’ offices, schools, airplanes, and other public spaces could become a powerful tool against seasonal influenza epidemics, and influenza pandemics, according to a study from the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC).

Tan-tastic way to fight the flu

Researchers have known for decades that short-wavelength UV light (dubbed UVC) is highly effective at killing bacteria and viruses. That’s because the radiation’s relatively tiny wavelength, of between 200 and 400 nanometers, allows it to pierce through the organisms’ shells and wreak havoc on the molecular bonds in their genetic material. In fact, it’s so good at doing it, that conventional UV light is routinely used to disinfect and decontaminate surgical tools and equipment.

“Unfortunately, conventional germicidal UV light is also a human health hazard and can lead to skin cancer and cataracts, which prevents its use in public spaces,” said lead author David J. Brenner.

However, the narrow spectrum of ultraviolet light called far-UVC retains this microbe-killing potential but without the ability to damage human tissue. That’s the spectrum that Brenner and his team focused on in their research. Previously, Dr. Brenner’s team proved that far-UVC light could kill MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus) bacteria, a common culprit for surgery-associated infections, without harming human or mouse skin.

“Far-UVC light has a very limited range and cannot penetrate through the outer dead-cell layer of human skin or the tear layer in the eye, so it’s not a human health hazard. But because viruses and bacteria are much smaller than human cells, far-UVC light can reach their DNA and kill them,” he explains.

Influenza spreads from person to person mainly through fine drops of liquid (aerosols) that float around after people cough, sneeze, or talk. The study examined whether far-UVC light could efficiently kill aerosol-borne influenza viruses in settings similar to a public space. They worked with an aerosolized H1N1 virus, a common strain of the flu, which they released into a test chamber, and later exposed to very low doses of far-UVC light (222 nm). A control group was similarly aerosolized but not exposed to UVC light.

The results showed that far-UVC light inactivated the viruses with roughly the same efficiency as conventional UV disinfection treatments. If the results can be recreated in other settings, the team is confident that overhead, low-level far-UVC lighting in public locations could form a powerful tool for limiting the airborne transmission and spread of microbial diseases, “such as influenza and tuberculosis,” said Dr. Brenner. It would be a comparatively cheap measure, as far-UVC lights are relatively inexpensive and broadly-applicable.

“Unlike flu vaccines, far-UVC is likely to be effective against all airborne microbes, even newly emerging strains.”

The paper “Far-UVC light: A new tool to control the spread of airborne-mediated microbial diseases,” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Flu vs cold

How to spot the difference between a cold and the flu

Flu vs cold

Credit: Pixabay / Sambeet.

It’s common to dismiss a few sniffles and a cough as ‘nothing but a cold’ when, in fact, it might very well be a far more dreadful animal — influenza. It’s quite easy to mistake the two, too. Both are viral infections and symptoms often overlap. Sometimes, unless your doctor runs a test with a cotton swab from the back of your nose or throat, it can be very difficult to tell the two apart. Make no mistake though — the two types of viral infections can also be worlds apart, so much so that it could mean the difference between life and death. While the common cold is generally harmless, tens of thousands of people worldwide die each year from the flu.

Flu vs common cold

Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Cold symptoms overlap greatly, but they’re typically milder than those of the flu. Another important difference in this regard is that people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.

Precisely because the symptoms of the two types of infection overlap so much, it can be very difficult if not impossible to diagnose one or the other based on symptoms alone. Instead, doctors rely on special tests performed within the first couple of days of illness to make the diagnosis. It’s a good idea to get tested within the first 48 hours of showing symptoms to minimize the risk of developing flu-related health complications.

The flu can lead to sinus and ear infections (moderate) or more serious complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure). Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.

Both the flu (influenza) and the common cold are viral infections of the upper respiratory tract but each is caused by different groups of viruses.  However, influenza can also infect the lungs and the joints, and can cause pneumonia, respiratory failure, and even death.

Credit: WebMD.

Credit: WebMD.

Colds come on gradually over a few days and are often milder than the flu. They usually get better in 7 to 10 days, although symptoms can last for up to 2 weeks.

Flu symptoms come on quickly — often within 1 to 3 days — and can be severe. Basically, if you wake up one morning suddenly feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, it’s likely the flu. Symptoms usually last 1 to 2 weeks.

Influenza is responsible for body and head aches, whereas cold aches are much milder.

With a cold, you may or not feel tired. With the flu, however, tiredness and weakness are common.

Some people get a slight fever when struck by a cold, but most don’t. In contrast, any fever above 38 degrees Celsius (101 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit) is a sign of the flu, with children’s fevers tending to be higher.

Bottom line: fever, fatigue and muscle aches may be a sign of both types of viral infections, but if they are particularly bad it is likely to be the flu. Nasal symptoms are more likely to point to a cold. Flu comes on faster while, in contrast, a cold develops more gradually. Flu symptoms usually go away after a week; if they persist for up to two weeks, it’s probably a cold. There is a vaccine for the flu but none for the cold.

What is the common cold?

Common cold vs flu

Credit: Pixabay.

The common cold is an upper respiratory viral infection caused by an adenovirus, rhinovirus or coronavirus. More than 100 different viruses can cause the common cold, meaning there’s a lot of variability. For this reason, you’ll often hear that there’s no cure for the common cold nor is there any vaccination (a common cold vaccine might actually be in sight though). It’s true, however, that the rhinovirus is most often the one that makes people sneeze and sniffle.

Cold-causing viruses thrive in low humidity which is why they’re so common during winter months. These are airborne viruses which typically spread when someone sick sneezes or coughs. You can also get infected if you come in contact with a surface that a sick person also contacted and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.

Infected people are more contagious in the first two to four days after being exposed to the virus.

Common cold treatments

Over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs, can relieve congestion, aches, and other cold symptoms. Drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration is key.

However, there’s mixed evidence that remedies like zinc, vitamin C or echinacea prevent or relieve cold symptoms. A 2015 study found taking zinc lozenges could shorten the length of colds if taken within 24 hours of showing symptoms. Vitamin C doesn’t look like it prevents colds, but when taken regularly may lessen cold symptoms, according to a 2013 review. 

[ALSO READ] Why am I always cold? 

It’s always a good idea to read the active ingredients and warnings on all product labels. Many cough and cold medicines have the same ingredients, so you could accidentally overdose unless you’re careful.

Don’t ever take antibiotics for colds since this is a viral infection and not a bacterial infection. Viral infections typically go away seven to ten days after the first symptoms show. If symptoms persist after that, you might have bacteria like Strep or Haemophilus influenzae. These bacteria cause illnesses that are longer lasting.

What is the flu?

cold vs flu.

Credit: Pixabay.

The flu is also an upper respiratory viral infection. It’s caused by the influenza virus which is less variable and hence can actually be preventable. For instance, there are various flu vaccines.

Seasonal flu is caused by influenza A, B, and C, with A and B being the most common. New vaccines have to be developed every flu season though because active strains vary yearly. There are scientists, however, who are working on a universal flu vaccine. 

The flu spreads from to person to person just like the cold: by coming into contact with droplets spread by an infected person. Infected people are contagious starting 1 day before getting sick and up to 5 to 7 days after showing symptoms.

Unlike the common cold, the flu can easily develop into a more serious condition, particularly in the case of young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Flu treatments

To shorten the duration of the flu infection and to prevent complications, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir or zanamivir. However, this kind of treatment only works within the first 48 hours of getting sick. If you’re too late, you can treat symptoms with over-the-counter pills like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. At the end of the day, though, there’s not much you can do other than resting and drinking plenty of fluids. If symptoms get worse, you ought to urgently see a doctor for any signs of complications such as pneumonia (severe sore throat, trouble breathing, chest pain, high and persistent fever).

The best way to prevent the flu is getting the flu shot, the best time to do this being in October (the start of flu season). Unfortunately, only 30 percent of 4,000 U.S. adults surveyed said they’d been inoculated this season.

To avoid contracting the viral infection, wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Most importantly, avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth. Stay away from people who have the flu or flu-like symptoms.

Regardless of whether you have a cold or the flu, the illness will usually go away on its own, but you should visit your doctor if your symptoms change or get worse.

The average adult catches a flu only twice a decade

Sick, got the flu? Well, maybe what you think is the flu really isn’t the flu… a new study has found that while children catch a flu once every two years on average, the rate goes down significantly in adults – the average adult only gets it once every 5 years.

Image via NY Post.

The flu is any infectious disease caused by the influenza virus. Common symptoms include a high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains, headache, coughing, and feeling tired, with the cough usually lasting a long time. The flu shouldn’t be mistaken for the common cold though – while it may have similar (typically milder) symptoms, the common cold is not caused by the influenza.

Many people think they got a flu, but as this new study found, that’s most likely not the case. Dr. Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded that most of the time, symptoms attributed by patients to the flu are actually just the common cold.

Dr Adam Kucharski said:

‘There’s a lot of debate in the field as to how often people get flu, as opposed to flu-like illness caused by something else. These symptoms can sometimes be caused by common cold viruses.’

He and his team analyzed blood samples from 151 volunteers from China between the age of seven and 81 and looked at all strains of influenza. It’s the first time this type of study was done (on influenza) and may help us understand how the infectious disease spreads.

They found that we are most vulnerable to flu in our early years, but as we start to grow, we develop antibodies to fight flu viruses by targeting proteins on the virus surface.

Co-researcher Dr Steven Riley said people often simply misuse the word ‘flu’. He said:

‘People don’t mean flu when they say “flu”. What they mean is that they have a bad respiratory illness and there are quite a few of these around.’

You can read the entire article for free, on PLoS.

universal flu vaccine

Universal flu vaccine: now closer than ever

Researchers have identified a new class of antibodies that are capable of neutralizing a wide range of influenza A viruses, a discovery that could potentially lead to a universal flu vaccine. The vaccine would be applied only once an, instead of once every flu season today. Protection against all strains of flue, even mutated ones, would be assured for life according to scientists at McMaster and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

A universal vaccine for the influenza could keep the flu at bay for life

universal flu vaccine

Credit: CBC.ca

Matthew Miller, a senior author of the novel stud, and colleagues compared the potency of an isolated strain-specific flu antibody (the kind seasonal flue vaccines are based on) with an isolated broadly-neutralizing flu antibody (the stuff universal flu vaccines might be made of) in a controlled lab setting. The team found that the latter had a much weaker neutralization activity, which sounds like they’re less effective. However, when the antibodies were isolated in their natural setting from human blood, the results were comparable with the strain-specific shots. In addition, unlike the strain-specific vaccine, a vaccine based on a broadly-neutralizing antibody works against many strains of influenza.

This is the first time a detailed analysis of broadly-neutralizing antibodies in a natural setting was conducted. Antibodies derived from the lungs and upper respiratory system were found to be the most potent, according to the paper published in the Journal of Virology.

“This would prevent the occurrence of flu pandemics and poor vaccine efficiency in the case of mismatches, which actually occurred this year,” Miller said.

“This is also very encouraging and provides guidance as to what vaccine would be best for delivering a universal flu vaccine – that is, inactivated versus live-attenuated,” he added.

The inactivated vaccine is none other the flu shot you and me have to know. It consists of virus particles which are grown in eggs under controlled conditions and are then killed using a detergent-based method. This vaccine is important because it can be given to almost everyone 6 months of age and older. Each year, approximately 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized because of influenza (the flu) and about 10,000-20,000 die. However, flu viruses are always changing. Each year’s flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four viruses that are likely to cause disease that year. As such, the flu vaccine cannot prevent all cases of flu, but it is the best defense against the disease at the moment.

The attenuated vaccine, on the other hand, is made by the reducing the potency or virulence of the pathogen, all while still keeping the virus “alive” (viable). The attenuation allows the virus to replicate harmlessly in the upper respiratory tract so that an immune response can be generated, but renders it useless at infecting the lung where disease normally occurs.

According to Miller, a universal flu vaccine could become a reality in the next five to seven years.

antibiotic for flu

A third of Americans think antibiotics cure the flu

antibiotic for flu

A lot of Americans seem to be confused about what are antibiotics and what they’re good for. According to a YouGov survey (full results), a third of American correspondents replied that antibiotics can cure the flu, while a third also thought that vaccines can give you the flu. It goes without saying that this is false. The findings suggest an over prevalence of thought that antibiotics are “good for everything”, an abuse that might cost public health dearly.

We’re fighting a hidden enemy, a sleeper cell. Antibiotics, since their introduction in the early 20th century, have saved the lives of countless people, yet studies repeatedly show that there’s a growing buildup of tolerance. Simply but, bacteria and microbes are getting more apt at evading antibiotics because they’ve grown accustomed to it. The more we use antibiotics, the worse it will get, but right now antibiotics are prescribed for ailments where these aren’t necessary. As doctors are forced to swap classes for another, the world risks running out of effective antibiotics in the not so distant future. On a more positive note, researchers at the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at Northeastern University reported last week how they created a new class of powerful antibiotics – it too might not last forever at this rate, unfortunately.

[ALSO READ] Vaccine skeptical parents tend to cluster and endanger communities

Remember, colds, flu, and most sore throats and cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses. Antibiotics will not help. Antibiotics are designed to treat infections that are caused by bacteria – not viruses.Taking antibiotics unnecessarily when you have a viral illness can put you at higher risk of drug-resistant infections in the future. This is true for both children and adults.


According to the YouGov research, the vast majority of Americans know that antibiotics are useful when you’re dealing with bacterial infections (84%) and pneumonia (70%), and that they’re not much use against aches and pains (73%) or common colds (66%). Americans are, however, more confused as to whether or not antibiotics can help with the flu and other viral infections. The survey found 41% of Americans say that viral infections can be cured with antibiotics (some doctors do hand out antibiotics for viral infections, which I hope only happens in those cases where it’s actually useful to do!), while 35% think that antibiotics can cure the flu, neither of which is true.


It seems like the younger generation is having a harder time picturing what antibiotics are good for. Those older than 30 know that antibiotics cannot cure the flu, but 48% of under-30s say that the flu can be cured with antibiotics. Perhaps most worrisome is that  38% of Americans, young and old alike, think that getting a flu shot can get you the flu in the first place, which is a myth.  Only 21% of people who think you can catch the flu from a shot got one this flu season, while 61% of people who know you cannot catch it got a shot.


Vaccination starts with pregnancy, for everyone’s good health

Soon to be mommies are up for some of their stressful times, since it seems they’re bombarded with all sorts of contradictory information how to deliver their babies as healthy and safe as possible. After labor, there are other things to consider as well: the baby should sleep on his back, car seats are safer for newborns etc etc. The most important message mommies are missing, however, is that pregnant women and their babies need vaccines to stay healthy, according to  Saad Omer, a researcher the Royal Society for Public Health.

Parents and vaccines


Credit: Total Assist

“When you start talking about childhood vaccines with parents after their babies are born, it is already too late,” he says. “Young parents are more receptive when they are pregnant. There are already lots of messages that are targeted to them during pregnancy, such as breastfeeding and safety. We need to add mother and child vaccinations to that.”

Omer and colleagues were among the first to prove babies born during flu season (October 1 to May 31) and whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy were less likely to be premature or small for their gestational age than babies born to unvaccinated mothers. In another study, Omer demonstrated that vaccinating pregnant women against influenza also protected the newborn babies. Thanks to his work,  the World Health Organization now recommends the use of the influenza vaccination globally, especially among pregnant women.

“Vaccinating pregnant women is especially important in developing countries,” he says. “Here in the United States, premature babies go to the NICU. In many parts of developing countries, there is no NICU. Worldwide, 1 million deaths are associated with preterm births.”

But why aren’t enough women doing it? According to Omer, it all stats with health care providers. Women are more likely to get vaccinated during pregnancy and more likely to have their children vaccinated if their health care provider recommends doing so.

“Health care providers are the most trusted source of immunization information,” Omer says. “How physicians approach vaccination with parents has an impact on vaccination update rates. If vaccination is treated as a routine part of care, then children are more likely to get boosters.”

Vaccine noncompliance, or vaccine refusal, raises everyone’s risk of disease, he notes. “Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, influenza, and pertussis often start among persons who forego vaccinations, spread rapidly within unvaccinated populations, and also spread to other subpopulations.”

Oddly enough, fewer people are vaccinating themselves or their children. In 2010, a pertussis outbreak in California was thought to be due to a waning immunity from vaccines, but Omer and team were the first show that something else was at play. They found areas with high rates of children entering kindergarten with a nonmedical exemption for vaccines were 2.5 times more likely to be living in a pertussis cluster. The state’s rate of nonmedical exemption more than tripled during the 10 years prior to the outbreak. Why? Well, have you seen the anti-vaccine posts on facebook and elsewhere on the net? There you have it.

As far as I can tell, it all started with a claim – later proven wrong on numerous occasions – that vaccines cause autism in children. In 2007, nearly 5,000 parents of autistic children filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that childhood vaccines (specifically the mercury-containing thimerosal in the vaccines) caused their children’s autism. To this day vaccination skepticism still lingers, despite pseudoscience rebuttals.  Thousands of parents have been frightened into rejecting or delaying immunizations for their children. The immunization rate has dropped, resulting in the return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. children have died. Herd immunity has been lost. This is no joke, this is a serious threat to public health!

It’s believed 3% US parents are hardcore vaccine skeptics, while 25% are so-called “fence sitters” who may decline some but not all child vaccines, and they should be the focus of the public health community, Omer says. “We don’t want them to move into the refusal group.”

“The bottom line is that vaccines are still one of the most effective tools we have for preventing disease in children,” he adds. “Maintaining high levels of vaccine coverage will help ensure that we keep the progress we’ve made in eradicating or warding off childhood diseases.”


This protein makes you sleepy with the flu, but helps speed recovery

When the flu hits, an unmistakable feeling of drowsiness sinks in. Washington State University Spokane scientists have now found a specific protein that is uniquely involved in sleep responses triggered by the influenza virus in mice. They found that the protein boosts the healing power of sleep and helps recovery. The researchers speculate that it might be possible to develop treatments based on it that might speed up recovery even more.

A sleepy protein that helps the flu go away


Image: Trilliumnatural

Professor James M. Krueger and colleagues identified the protein in question as being AcPb. The protein links up with an immune system signaling chemical called interleukin-1 to help regulate sleep in healthy animals, but also to prompt infected animals to spend more time sleeping during an illness.

The team engineered mice who lacked  the gene for AcPb  gave an intranasal dose of mouse-adapted H1N1 influenza virus, a strain of influenza that swept across the world in the 2009 pandemic. Normal mice who had AcPb were also infected. Infected, regular mice showed the typical prolonged sleep response, but mice lacking AcPb slept less than control mice. The latter group became chilled, grew sluggish, lost their normal circadian rhythms and ultimately died in higher numbers than the mice who slept longer.

“Influenza is a lung disease,” said Krueger, “and deaths probably occur from fluid building up in the lungs. But now, we see that without AcPb in the brain, the virus is even more deadly. Why would the brain be regulating a lung disease?”

“We knew that the virus replicated in the lungs,” he said, “but we’ve discovered it also reaches parts of the brain – causing an inflammatory reaction involving interleukin-1 and AcPb. That reaction induces the increased sleep response that helps the body overcome an infection.”

Previously, studies had shown that sleep is necessary for a healthy immune system and plays a critical role in the body’s response to bacterial and viral infections.

“This finding expands our knowledge of the molecular pathway involved in recovery from influenza,” said Krueger, who hopes virologists will take note.

The researchers speculate that it may be possible to develop a treatment, and why not a cure, to influenza based on this new-found knowledge. Krueger explains that the interleukin-1 – AcPb signaling complex is linked to a different molecule in the immune system called growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH) and its receptor (GHRHR.) GHRHR was “previously shown to be critical to the healing sleep responses induced by the influenza virus, so this may offer another potential clinical approach to treat influenza and other microbial diseases.”

Findings appeared in Brain, Behavior and Immunity

Three members of a recently contacted tribe walk with weapons in hand in Brazil. (c) FUNAI

Members of a previously uncontacted Amazonian tribe become infected with influenza

Three members of a recently contacted tribe walk with weapons in hand in Brazil. (c) FUNAI

Three members of a recently contacted tribe walk with weapons in hand in Brazil. (c) FUNAI

A few months ago, I reported how Google is using its drones and Google Earth technology to monitor an uncontacted Amazonian tribe. Now, there’s convincing evidence that the same tribe has come in contact with non-indigenous locals, then with western researchers in the most unfortunate of circumstances. One, the contact was initiated by criminals operating illegal narcotrafficking whose routes apparently pass through the tribe’s territory. Allegedly they’ve been threatened and might be forced to relocate, something inconceivable for the locals. Second, the contact might result in dramatic consequences as some members were infected with influenza, a potentially fatal disease for the indigenous population since their immune system lacks non-native adaptation.

Third degree contact

Researchers from Brazil’s Indian affairs department (FUNAI) encountered natives who emerged from the  forest along the Upper Envira River while returning from a raid on another remote, but settled tribe. The tribesmen and researchers spent three weeks together. In this time, an invaluable cultural experience took place. Can you imagine what would it be like to meet people from the future? I’m putting my money this is how the natives must have  felt, too. But the researchers weren’t the first ‘extraterrestrials’ they’ve met, though.

[MUST READ] Loggers burned Amazon 8 year old tribe girl alive, as part of a campaign to force indigenous population out of the land

The team have good reasons to assume the tribe members were fleeing  illegal loggers and cocaine traffickers, yet right now the ‘civilized’ criminals are the least of their worries. According to a FUNAI announcement, the members were infected with influenza. The flue is something most of us can handle – sure, we might get stuck in bed with terrible headaches, but it won’t kill us. The same can’t be said for tribesmen in Brazil’s Acre.

In case after case, contact has proved tragic as diseases like flu and measles almost obliterated previously isolated tribes. History makes a valid point of just how dangerous this kind of situation can become. In 1519, Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs and decimated the grand empire’s populace with a force less than 250 strong. While horses, which terrified the natives, and gun powdered offered them a godlike allure, it was the diseases the Spaniards brought with them to an unadapted population that tipped the scales in their favor.

A government medical team is reported to have treated the tribesmen for their flu, but apparently the contacted people slipped back to their village shortly after receiving their shots.

“We can only hope that [the FUNAI team members] were able to give out treatment before the sickness was spread to the rest of the tribe in the forest,” says Chris Fagan, executive director at the Upper Amazon Conservancy in Jackson, Wyoming. “Only time will tell if they reacted quickly enough to divert a catastrophic epidemic.”

According to Adam Bauer-Goulden, president of the Rainforest Rescue Coalition, the tribe in question may be part of a larger group of Chitonahua people. A village of 40 to 100 people was recently photographed  not far south of the contact area, and the body ornamentation and haircuts of these villagers closely resemble those of the newly contacted group as seen in the feature photo for this article.

It’s a worrisome situation, says anthropologist Robert Walker of the University of Missouri, Columbia. “We are just hearing of one of the many contacts that are going on in this region,” he says. “If you think of how many loggers and narcotraffickers there are in this region, and that there could be as many as 3000 to 4000 uncontacted people there, the potential for contact is huge.”

via Science Mag.

Adelie penguins going about their way. Photo :Peter & J. Clement/

New bird flu infects Antarctic penguins

Adelie penguins going about their way. Photo :Peter & J. Clement/

Adelie penguins going about their way. Photo :Peter & J. Clement/

It’s so cold even penguins get the flu in the Antarctic. Seriously, researchers report in a paper published in the journal mBio how they identified a new strain of influenza that infects Adelie penguins which breed in huge colonies on the rocky Antarctic Peninsula. The virus itself seems to be dormant as the penguins don’t exhibit any visible flu symptoms, yet the findings do raise important questions like how influenza spreads over the world in extremely isolated regions such as the Antarctic.

Bird flu strikes penguins

Researchers at a World Health Organization flu lab in Australia, led by Aeron Hurt, trekked down to the Antarctic Peninsula a year ago and collected oral samples from two distinct colonies. Using a laboratory technique called real-time reverse transcription-PCR, the researchers found avian influenza virus (AIV) genetic material in 3 percent of the samples.

[NOW READ] Climate change causes penguin colonies to decline by a third

The researchers managed to culture four viruses, demonstrating that live infectious virus was present. All of these were H11N2 influenza viruses that were highly similar to each other, yet when their genomes were compared with those from a database spanning all known animal and human influenzas there was nothing quite alike on the planet. Apparently, this penguin influenza is unique.

This suggests that it has been isolated for many decades — presumably hiding out in the penguins’ digestive and respiratory tracts, or possibly frozen in Antarctic ice. So where did they come from and in Antarctica of all places?

[ALSO READ] Dutch researchers create super-influenza, with the capacity to kill billions

Four of the gene segments were most closely related to North American avian lineage viruses from the 1960s to 1980s. Two genes showed a distant relationship to a large number of South American AIVs from Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Using a molecular clock to incorporate the evolutionary rate of each AIV gene segment, the researchers estimated that the virus has been evolving for the past 49 to 80 years without anyone knowing about it.

Concerning this South American connection, it may be possible that long distance migratory birds are the root of the virus’ spreading. The yellow-billed pintail duck, for instance, is known to stray from South America and end up on the Antarctic Peninsula. This coupled with penguins’ utter contempt for hygiene, despite their tuxedo, fancy-like appearance, may have helped spread the virus.

“The large amount of penguin feces in colonies during summer, which in some cases is so significant it can be observed on satellite images, presumably facilitates (viral) transmission by the fecal-oral route,” the scientists note.

While the penguin influenza hasn’t caused any illness yet, it’s still interesting to follow. Scientists might gather from this how often, for instance, infectious viruses can reach isolated communities and far away places like Antarctica and what animals are most vulnerable.

Two children have a gene mutation which protects them from many viruses, including influenza, hepatitis C and HIV

MOGS gene, via Wikipedia.

A new study on which a swarm of scientists worked on showed that two children (an 11 year old boy and a 6 year old girl)  have a mutation which greatly reduces viral replication in HIV, dengue fever, herpes simplex virus type 2 infection, and hepatitis C – effectively protecting them from the viruses.

The two children are siblings, and their parents are healthy, apparently normal from every point of view. The two children feature a mutation in the gene encoding MOGS – a glycoprotein believed to be important in the process of myelinization of nerves in the central nervous system (CNS).

The thing is, this mutation comes with even more downsides – these two kids have a serious list of problems such as a complex disorder characterized by dysmorphic facial features, generalized hypotonia, seizures, global developmental delay, cerebral atrophy, a small corpus callosum, optic-nerve atrophy, sensorineural hearing loss, hypoplastic genitalia, chronic constipation, and recurrent bone fractures, as well as hypogammaglobulinemia – a type of primary immune deficiency disease characterized by a reduction in all types of gamma globulins. Basically, the disadvantages greatly outweight the advantages.

Researchers write in the paper:

“In summary, the two siblings we describe have a paradoxical clinical phenotype of severe hypogammaglobulinemia and increased resistance to particular viral infections. We evaluated the patients’ immune systems and susceptibility to viral diseases and found an association with a rare MOGS N-glycosylation defect.”

They only reported the findings, not going into additional discussions about the potential benefits of this kind of study. However, it seems pretty clear that finding a way to eliminate all the negative side effects while maintaining the viral resistance could have massive implications – though that’s pretty far away. A drug working on the same mechanism called miglustat was developed in the ’90’s for HIV treatment, but the side effects were still significant.

Scientific Reference.

Over 70% of sea otters have H1N1 swine flu, and researchers don’t know how they got it

Photo: Mike Baird, via Flickr.

Sea otters have entered a select, but unfortunate club: they joined the ranks of ducks, chickens, pigs, whales, horses  elephant seals and humans – all of which can contact the influenza. According to a new study conducted by the US Geological Survey and the CDC, sea otters living in a remote area in Washington state were found to carry the H1N1 virus, the strain of human flu that caused a pandemic back in 2009.

In 2009, the influenza strain spread to humans and caused worldwide panic; it sticked around ever since, and continues to hold potentially dark prospects for the future. However, only some animals can carry it, so it came as both a surprise and a shock when they found that 70 percent of the sea otters they were sampling along the Washington state coast were testing positive for the influenza.

USGS researchers don’t know how they caught the virus, though they do have a few ideas.

“Potential contact between northern elephant seals and sea otters is one possibility; elephant seals’ summer feeding ranges and breeding areas along the Northeast Pacific coast overlap with areas where the Washington sea otter population is distributed,” the researchers write in the paper.

Just a quick notice: while the disease may also spread to river otters, it hasn’t yet, and it’s worth noting that sea otters and river otters are not only from different species, but from a different genus. Studying and understanding how they contacted the virus in the first place may yield information as to how the influenza may spread to other species. But regardless of how it did spread, sea otters are indeed quite susceptible to it. Interestingly enough, even though 70% of all studied specimens had the virus, none of them appeared to be ill in any way. Still lots to be discovered, but that remains a subject for an otter study.

Scientific Reference

Flu’s coming, but which kind?

The beginning of autumn brings cold weather, and with it, another type of flu. We here at ZME have already all gone down with a bad case of the flu, and of course, we’re not nearly the only ones. Each year seems to bring the threat of a new flu virus; first it was the avian flu, transmitted from birds to humans, then it was the swine flu, and last spring, Chinese authorities announced the discovery of another strain of flu, H7N9 which passes from birds to humans. So what’s next?

Here, we publish an interview released by Hardvard, with Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health. Staff writer Alvin Powell of the Harvard Gazette sat down with him for the questions:


GAZETTE: What’s the difference between seasonal flu and pandemic flu?

LIPSITCH: Pandemic flu is something that has happened four times in the last 100 years. It is the appearance and spread of a strain of flu that is novel to our immune systems, whose surface proteins are different from those that are already circulating.

Not every novel strain of influenza A causes a pandemic, because most strains of flu A are not easily transmissible human-to-human. For example, H5N1 [the subject of controversy in 2012 after scientists created an strain easily transmissible in lab animals] is called bird flu because it does transmit very well between birds but does not currently transmit very well between people.

At the moment there are three seasonal flu strains circulating. There is influenza A/ H1N1, which is the descendant of the [2009] pandemic strain. There is influenza A/ H3N2, which is the descendant of the 1968 pandemic. And there is influenza B, which doesn’t really cause pandemics, but which evolves slowly and is a little bit different every year.

Flu season begins at various times in different years but typically between October and January, and continues for a couple of months or so. And the late fall/winter seasonality has been a topic of great interest for some time, but there are so many things that are different in the winter that it’s hard to untangle.

Some work that I did with Jeff Shaman at Columbia and other collaborators showed that one of the very important contributors to seasonality is absolute humidity, which is the quantity of water vapor in the air. We don’t really know what the biophysical mechanism is for why increased absolute humidity reduces virus survival and transmission, but it does.

Clearly another contributor is school. There’ve been several studies suggesting that there’s about 20 percent more opportunities for transmission of flu during school terms than out of school terms. We’ve just submitted a paper trying to estimate the same quantity when schools opened in the 2009 pandemic and we get a similar answer.

GAZETTE: What’s the status of the latest strain to emerge, H7N9?

LIPSITCH: There were a few human cases as late as the early summer, and many epidemiologists are concerned that it may resurge later this year. Because it doesn’t cause severe symptoms in birds, it is hard to be sure how many birds are infected. Another thing we don’t really know is how many human cases we’re missing with H7N9.

Work is under way to figure out if there are people contracting infection with this virus but not getting sick enough for us to notice.

GAZETTE: How important is that piece of the puzzle in deciding how big a threat a flu virus is?

LIPSITCH: It’s probably the biggest piece of the puzzle.

Epidemiologists typically think of it as a pyramid or an iceberg. We see the severe cases because they are likely to show up at hospitals and some of them die. So we can piece together the top of the pyramid pretty quickly: how many need intensive care and how many die.

But what’s harder to tell is how big the base of the pyramid is, how many people are getting infected and not getting sick or just getting treated by their doctor for symptoms and not coming to the hospital.

In 1918, about 2 percent of people who got [Spanish flu] died. In 2009, the estimate [of those who died from H1N1] is somewhere between one in 2,000 to one in 14,000. That’s a huge range.

The center that I direct has a close collaboration with a group in Hong Kong University that is doing a lot of the work to try to figure out exactly that question: how many undetected cases are there?

GAZETTE: The numbers I saw — 45 deaths out of 135 cases — seemed to indicate it was pretty serious.

LIPSITCH: But that’s with this piece missing. If the numbers we know now represented all the cases, it would be much worse than anything that’s ever been widespread in humans. But it’s unlikely that it’s that bad.

GAZETTE: How is MERS different from the flu?

LIPSITCH: It’s a coronavirus, related to the virus that causes SARS. It so far seems to show more signs of human-to-human transmission than H7N9 flu. Fortunately, it’s not so transmissible as to be out of control in any population we know about.

There is the same uncertainty as to how many people have it that we don’t know about and what role those people play in transmission. It’s very much like SARS in the early days. MERS seems to be a little bit less transmissible so it’s harder to figure out because the more transmission you get, the more data you get.

GAZETTE: The numbers from the CDC say MERS has caused 58 deaths out of 130 cases and that it has been found in several countries, including France.

LIPSITCH: It has been in France, but there is no evidence of ongoing transmission in France.

SARS also had a very high case fatality ratio among the sickest people and among elderly people, about 10 percent overall. It was almost zero in people under 50 and much higher in people over 50.

A lot of the people who’ve gotten MERS have been older and already in hospitals for other reasons: There was a big outbreak in a dialysis unit, for example. What the average case fatality ratio is in a healthy population, we don’t know. And how many people have been infected and missed [by public health officials] we also don’t know.

It would be very helpful to have genetic sequences from all the cases. It would also be helpful to identify what their common exposure is and, if there is a common exposure, what their animal reservoir is so we could be able to compare the virus and tell if it’s being introduced over and over again.

One of the exciting things about the ability to sequence viruses and bacteria quickly — which is one thing we focus on here — is that you can chart rates of transmission from person to person or across geography or across species based on the sequence similarity.

GAZETTE: So it’s possible that the cases have been introduced over and over from an animal reservoir rather than animal to human and then spreading through the human population?

LIPSITCH: Yes, it is some combination of the two, but we don’t know in exactly what proportion because we think we are missing cases.

GAZETTE: Do we need to watch for MERS during flu season as well as H7N9?

LIPSITCH: With SARS, a lot of the cases were in the spring, so maybe [it’s seasonal]. But for SARS and so far MERS, a lot of the transmission has been in hospitals, which is somewhat less prone to seasonality.

It seems both [MERS and H7N9] are at this stage not sufficiently transmissible between people to cause generalized infection in many parts of the world. But both viruses have relatives that we know can do that, so our concern is they become like those relatives through genetic change.

GAZETTE: Do they mutate rapidly?

LIPSITCH: Certainly influenza can mutate rapidly and can exchange genetic information with other strains by infecting the same cell: That’s how several of the previous pandemic viruses have emerged as a threat — reassortment of genetic information between two or more strains, some of which are good at infecting humans.

There’s been lots of concern that the Hajj [in mid-October] will be an opportunity to disperse [MERS] infected people around the world in large numbers from Saudi Arabia.

GAZETTE: What kinds of precautionary actions are normally taken at this stage?

LIPSITCH: Public health officials are doing what they can to characterize the epidemiology of both viruses. But if they become transmissible between humans, the epidemiology will change. Vaccine development is underway for H7N9.

In parts of China, they have tried closing poultry markets, but that was a temporary measure.

An immediate concern for MERS is to try to improve infection control in hospitals where transmission is a possibility.

GAZETTE: Given the ease of travel and the advent of modern medical technology, is there more or less danger of a pandemic today than in the past?

LIPSITCH: The ability to get a virus from one side of the world to another in a matter of hours is not just a possibility, but really happened with SARS and it will happen with a new pandemic flu strain.

The [medical] technology makes a huge difference to those who can access its benefits. Novartis just published a paper showing that they can, in less than a week, manufacture a flu vaccine from a sequence. That doesn’t mean they can create enough for everybody, it means they can create a small quantity of it. The question is how fast that can be scaled up.

In [the H1N1 pandemic in] 2009, even countries like ours that can pay a lot for a flu vaccine still couldn’t get it fast enough. The ability to make enough vaccine against any of these agents for global use is not there yet. There’s not the manufacturing capacity. We can spread it to everyone but we can’t protect everyone.

In terms of treatment, we have one or two effective drugs against flu. There’s nothing particularly effective against MERS that I’m aware of. So that’s an area where technology hasn’t advanced a lot in the last few years.

What was amazing about SARS is that even though there was no drug and no vaccine that worked, it was controlled and essentially driven extinct by old-fashioned public health measures, coordinated with 21st-century technology. The SARS experience shows that it is possible to control some respiratory viruses, if they’re the kind that give you sufficient warning, which is to say they tell you who you have to isolate and whose contacts you have to quarantine. That was really the critical thing with SARS. The only people who were infectious were the people who were sick.

But any flu that gets a foothold and starts transmitting human to human will be almost impossible to control in that way.

Scientists Discover Blueprint for (almost) Universal Flu Vaccine

Digital illustration of the flu virus.

It may not seem like it, but the influenza (flu) virus is one of the most dangerous in the world due to the speed with which it evolves – each year, several new strains appear, making existing vaccines (and sometimes treatments) obsolete. The bird and swine influenza are just two examples of recent outbursts caused by the same virus which mutated incredibly fast. But while these strains make the news, it’s the seasonal flu which claims some 500.000 lives each year, worldwide. This is why That’s why researchers at Imperial College London were so excited to announce they’ve created a “blueprint” for a vaccine that could protect against most existing and evolving strains of the influenza.

The discovery is different in approach from conventional influenza shots, in that it relies on the unique structure of the influenza virus. The inner “core” of the virus stays the same for almost all influenza strains, but the outer proteins can be very different; this is a big problem because the body typically relies on detecting these outer proteins. However, if scientists could create a vaccine that focuses on the core instead of the outside proteins, then all the strains with the same core could be destroyed, regardless of mutations.

Research on this approach started in 2009, when scientists noticed that some students and staff at the university who had been exposed to pandemic flu didn’t really exhibit any serious symptoms. They conducted analysis and quickly found that some people simply develop immunity to new strains based on exposure to old strains – their bodies recognized were able to ignore signals emitted by outside proteins and focus on the “core”, thus eliminating old and new threats alike.

Blood samples showed that all these patients had high amounts of T-cells in their bodies (a type of lymphocite), which allowed their bodies to mount a response. Still, despite good progress being made, realistically speaking, this vaccine is some 5 years away from hitting the shelves. While normal vaccines are designed to provoke the immune system into developing antibodies specific to a certain virus, creating a vaccine that works on T-cells is much more challenging. Also, while it will be very effective against a number of strains and will significantly cut down risks, this vaccine won’t be a panacea – some strains will not be affected by it (those with a different “core”).

Scientific reference.
Pictures via Inhabitat.

Got the flu? Tweet it!

The flu season has started, and it promises to be one of the worst in years; so far, over 2.200 people have been hospitalized due to influenza related issues just in the US. For example, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a citywide public health emergency, with some 700 declared influenza cases – 10 times more than last year, and we’ve just started.

Social Flu

“It arrived five weeks early, and it’s shaping up to be a pretty bad flu season,” said Lyn Finelli, who heads the Influenza Outbreak Response Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

influenza virus

A influenza Virus model

But in tracking and managing the flu, officials have received a host new surveillance tools, thanks to social media and crowd sourcing; these tools allow them to keep track of the flu’s reach in real time, without waiting for weeks until the reports finally pile in, and even from people who don’t turn to hospital.

Pulling data from online sources “is no different than getting information on over-the-counter medication or thermometer purchases [to track against an outbreak],” said Philip Polgreen, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa.

So if you’ve got the flu, go ahead and tweet it, you’ll be making life just a little easier for doctors out there.

Social media to the rescue

us influenza

The most successful of these tracking initiatives came rather surprisingly from Google. Google Flu Trends analyzes flu-related Internet search terms like “flu symptoms” or “flu medication” to estimate flu activity in different areas and monitor the outbreak. How reliable is it? Well it’s indirect data, so it’s definitely not accurate, but it always gives a good indication.

Other great apps are Health Map, in which it’s easy to see just how much the US is suffering from flu, and Sick Weather, which relies on data from Twitter and Facebook. However, even with all these new data, it’s practically impossible to predict week-to-week peaks and troughs.

“We expect that it will last a few more weeks, but we can never tell how bad it’s going to get,” said Finelli.

Avian flu jumps from birds to mammals, killing New England baby seals

A novel avian influenza virus has developed the ability to infect aquatic mammals and is responsible for an outbreak of fatal pneumonia that recently struck harbor seals in New England.


The announcement was made by researchers from the Center for Infection & Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, New England Aquarium, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, SeaWorld and EcoHealth Alliance – pretty much the most serious groups you can get. This report brings out new sparks in the already heated debate surrounding the avian influenza.

Wildlife officials first became concerned in September 2011 when seals with severe pneumonia and skin lesions suddenly appeared along the coastline. Most of them were infants (less than 6 months) and a total of 162 were reported dead in no more than 3 months. Pathogen screening was conducted in the infected seals and they were diagnosed with a new strain of avian H3N8 influenza virus.

“When initial tests revealed an avian influenza virus, we asked the obvious question: how did this virus jump from birds to seals?” says Simon Anthony, D.Phil, postdoctoral research scientist at the CII and the lead author of the study.

Scientists then moved on to more complex lab tests, including genome sampling and phylogenetic analysis, finding that H3N8 descended from an avian strain that has been circulating in North American waterfowl since 2002, which implies recent transmission from wild birds to seals. Given these findings, as well as the long history of avian flu spread, seal H3N8 might pose a serious threat to human health.

“Our findings reinforce the importance of wildlife surveillance in predicting and preventing pandemics, says W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and John Snow Professor of Epidemiology, at the Mailman School of Public Health. “HIV/AIDS, SARS, West Nile, Nipah and influenza are all examples of emerging infectious diseases that originated in animals. Any outbreak of disease in domestic animals or wildlife, while an immediate threat to wildlife conservation, must also be considered potentially hazardous to humans.”


Dutch researcher created super-influenza, with the capacity of killing billions

A Dutch researcher has created a virus so deadly that it has the potential to wipe out half of the world’s population. Now, researchers and experts seem to consider that this research is so dangerous it shouldn’t even be published; there are voices which state this shouldn’t even have happened.

The virus in case is a mutation of the avian influenza H5N1 – also known as the bird flu, and this research was made to study it in case this mutation occurs naturally – which might happen. Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands made this virus much more contagious; bird flu emerged ten years ago, and since then, despite all the hype, there have only been 600 reported cases. Statistically, you have more chances of being killed by a falling coconut than by the bird flu.

But Fouchier’s genetically modified strain is extremely contagious and dangerous, killing about half of infected patients, while also being transmitted more easily. It was revealed that this modified strain has five mutations, all of which exist in nature, but not combined. The strain is as contagious as your average influenza, but much more lethal.

“I can not think of a pathogenic organism to be more dangerous than this one”, commented Paul Keim, a specialist in microbial genetics who worked for many years with the anthrax bacillus. “I think the anthrax is not at all scary, when compared with this virus” , he added.

Keim is also the coordinator of the U.S. National Committee dedicated to biosecurity issues, which makes him particularly interested about the danger this research poses, if falled in to the wrong hands.

“It’s just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it’s a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it,” believes Dr. Thomas Inglesby, a bioterrorism expert

But on the other hand, this whole study was made with the point of understanding how the virus would behave, so we could be ready in the case of such a terrorist attack, or in the case the virus mutates by itself, so some researchers believe banning this paper would leave mankind much more vulnerable to these scenarios. What do you think?

Via Doctor Tipster

The swine flu – now a pademic

The swine influenza is now, officially, the 4th flu pandemic in the last 100 years. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization made an official move and declared the first global influenza pandemic in the last 40 years, for the A(H1N1) virus.

swine flu

However, it’s still unknown if this decision will actually change something in practice, because there has clearly been a pandemic state in the world for weeks. WHO points it as being moderate, but it could get worse.

“The world is now at the start of the 2009 pandemic,” she said. That makes it the fourth flu pandemic in a century, after 1918, 1957 and 1968. “The scientific criteria for a pandemic have been met,” she said; on 11 June the WHO moved to the topmost of its pandemic threat scale, phase 6, which indicates sustained community-level outbreaks in two or more countries in one other WHO region beyond initial community spread in one WHO region. “Further spread is considered inevitable,” she said.

“The declaration of a pandemic does not suggest there is a change in the behaviour of the virus, just that it is spreading in more parts of the world,” added Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. “It does send a strong message that the virus is here, in all likelihood here to stay.”

Researchers find out why swine flu is harder on some than others

Despite the fact that some researchers claim the swine flu is already declining, we are still on the verge of a pandemic that threatens to spiral out of control if we don’t take action. However, the major problem was to understand the virus, because there are still many things we have yet to find out and we can’t act blindly.

Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania now have some important clues as to why influenza is more severe in some cases and milder in others. If you read their study that was published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology you’ll find out that the virus can virtually paralyze the immune systems of humans that were otherwise healthy; this can lead to very severe bacterial infections including pneumonia. What’s even worse is that this can last for quite a while, and the cause for this has yet to be explained.

Kathleen Sullivan, M.D., Ph.D and senior researcher comments:

“We have a very limited understanding of why some people who get influenza simply have a bad cold and other people become very sick and even die. The results of this study give us a much better sense of the mechanisms underlying bacterial infections arising on top of the viral infection.”

“Despite major medical advances since the devastating flu outbreak of 1918 and 1919, influenza virus infection remains a very serious threat,” said John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, “and the current swine flu outbreak is a grim reminder of this fact. The work by Dr. Sullivan and colleagues brings us a step closer to understanding exactly what goes wrong in some people who get the flu, so, ultimately, physicians can develop more effective treatment strategies.”