Shades of 1918? Comparing Avian Flu with a notorious killer from the past

February 9, 2009

By hammersmith

[Source: ScienceDaily] – In the waning months of the First World War, a lethal virus known as the Spanish flu (influenza A, subtype H1N1), swept the United States, Europe and Asia in three convulsive waves. The year was 1918. The ensuing pandemic claimed up to 100 million victims, most of whom succumbed to severe respiratory complications associated with rapidly progressing pneumonia. Many died within days of the first symptoms.

In a new study, Carole Baskin, formerly assistant research professor at Arizona’s Biodesign Institute, currently with Science Foundation Arizona, and an interdisciplinary team of collaborators, compared the recent avian strain known in the scientific community as H5N1, with genetic ressortants of the 1918 virus—source of the most severe influenza pandemic in recorded history. The results, which appear in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, are sobering. H5N1 was found to replicate profusely within the first 24 hours, causing severe damage to respiratory tissues while sending the host’s innate immune response into a lethal overdrive, reminiscent of the trajectory of the original 1918 virus.

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