Tags: Cold/Flu | bird | flu | virus | 1950 | pandemic | threat

1950s Flu Virus Could Still Kill

By    |   Wednesday, 04 Dec 2013 03:17 PM

Like a viral ghost, a bird flu virus that killed millions worldwide in the 1950s continues to pose a threat, particularly to people under 50 who are not immune to it, according to new research by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists.

The findings, published in an advance online edition of the Journal of Virology, offer the first evidence that descendants of the H2N2 avian influenza A virus from the 1950s are still circulating and have the ability to infect human cells and spread among animals.
 
The study is based on an analysis of 22 H2N2 avian viruses collected from domestic poultry and wild birds between 1961 and 2008.
 
"This study suggests H2N2 has the characteristics necessary to re-emerge as a significant threat to human health in part because most individuals under the age of 50 lack immunity to the virus," said Robert Webster, a member of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases who helped conduct the study. "This highlights the importance of continued surveillance of viruses circulating in animals and additional research to enhance our ability to identify viruses that are emerging health threats."
 
Researchers reported the H2N2 viruses could infect human respiratory cells. Several strains also infected and spread among ferrets, which are susceptible to the same flu viruses as humans. Based on those and other indicators, one virus was classified as posing a high risk for triggering a pandemic — a worldwide epidemic.
 
Researchers added, however, that the viruses would be susceptible to current antiviral medications and could likely be controlled with a vaccine designed to target H2N2.
Such protections were unavailable in 1957-58 when an H2N2 virus killed 1 to 2 million people worldwide. While the H2N2 strain disappeared from flu viruses circulating in humans in 1968, it has persisted in the world's bird population.
 
Historically, pandemic flu viruses arise when bird and human flu viruses mix and share genes, making them especially virulent and difficult to prevent, control, and treat.
 
"One school of thought regarding emerging flu viruses is that in more than 100 years, only three of the 18 subtypes of influenza A have caused pandemics. The H2 subtype is one," Webster said.
 
The research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
 

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Like a viral ghost, a bird flu virus that killed millions worldwide in the 1950s continues to pose a threat, particularly to people under 50 who are not immune to it, according to new research by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists.
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2013-17-04
Wednesday, 04 Dec 2013 03:17 PM
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