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April 13, 2005

Fully Transmissible Human Influenza Virus Shipped Worldwide: Who Fears Lab Accident Could Trigger Pandemic

Topics: International News

Because mutations are such a crucial factor in a virus's reproductive strategy, any discussion of influenza must include a discussion of how the virus itself changes from one strain to the next. The mutations that lead to major changes in viral surface antigens _ changes that create the pandemic strains of influenza_are quite rare. Pandemic strains occurred three times in the 20th century: in 1918, the year of the so-called Spanish flu; in 1957, when a new strain called the Asian flu emerged, and in 1968, when a third strain was introduced, known as the Hong Kong flu. The 1957 Asian flu virus is dangerous enough, but should it further mutate - God help us all.

Now, according to WHO officials, a dangerous strain of the human influenza(flu) virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 1957(known as an H2N2 strain),  was apparently sent to thousands of laboratories in the United States and around the world - which has triggered a frantic effort to destroy the samples to prevent an outbreak. In 1957 and 1958 the H2N2 strain  killed 1 - 4 million people worldwide, including about 70,000 in the United States alone. Because the virus hasn't circulated in the wild since 1968, anyone born after that would have no natural immunity to it. Since then, the virus has been kept only in high-security biological laboratories.

The Asian flu virus is easily transmitted from person to person and many people have no immunity to it, so the discovery that it is now out and about in labs around the world has raised alarm that it could cause another deadly pandemic if a laboratory worker became infected. So health authorities are urgently working to make sure all samples are destroyed and to closely monitor anyone who may have come into contact with the virus for any signs of illness. No infections have occured so far, at least that is the official position - at this time.

Pandemic influenza has historically originated in China_even the misnamed Spanish flu of 1918 had Asian origins_primarily because the country has so many ducks. Wild ducks are the predominant reservoir for influenza.

For the WashingtonPost.com story via Yahoo - click here.

Posted by Hyscience at April 13, 2005 9:18 AM



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