Researchers Link 1918 Epidemic to Avian Flu
October 12, 2005 -- By restructuring the 1918 influenza virus, scientists have discovered the deadly disease was an avian flu that advanced directly from birds to humans. The 1918 pandemic killed as many as 50 million people worldwide. Scientists reconstructed the disease from samples from lung tissue from two American soldiers and an Alaskan woman who died of the highly infectious virus.
The scientists traced the genetic sequence of the 1918 virus and synthesized it using molecular biology. Avian flu is zoonotic, a disease that primarily affects animals and can be transferred to humans. It is only when the disease can transfer from human-to-human that it becomes highly contagious. Currently, avian flu has only been transferred from birds to people. The avian flu viruses act differently from ordinary human flu viruses; they infect cells deep in the lungs that would normally be immune.
A number of recent Institute of Medicine reports address pandemic influenza. The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready?, a summary of a workshop hosted by the Forum on Microbial Threats, discusses what steps the United States and other countries have taken and need to take to prepare for the next pandemic and examines gaps in readiness.
Two additional companion reports -- Microbial Threats to Health: The Threat of Pandemic Influenza and Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response describe ways America can better prepare to deal with influenza. The published proceedings of the John R. La Montagne Memorial Symposium on Pandemic Influenza Research outlines research gaps and priorities that need to be taken to advance research on pandemic influenza.