Scientists Re-create 1918 Flu to Study its Effects
January 30, 2007 -- Scientists studying pandemic influenza have made a breakthrough in understanding why the 1918 Spanish flu was so deadly. The researchers believe that an aberrant immune response caused tissue damage in the lungs and contributed to the mortality rate of the pandemic.
Using DNA recovered from the body of a victim frozen in Alaskan permafrost, scientists reconstructed the flu virus that killed over 40 million people in 1918. They then infected macaque monkeys with the virus so that its effects could be studied.
The virus caused an unregulated immune response within the monkeys. Immune cells that trigger inflammation, a natural response to infection, were present in much higher concentrations than expected. These cells infiltrated the lungs, causing severe tissue damage and contributing to the rapid death of the infected monkeys, the researchers reported in the journal Nature.
A number of recent Institute of Medicine reports look at pandemic influenza. Modeling Community Containment for Pandemic Influenza: A Letter Report recommends the development of a research agenda to answer fundamental epidemiological questions about influenza transmission to better inform community action plans during a pandemic.
In addition, Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response describes ways America can better prepare to deal with influenza. And the published proceedings of a 2005 symposium contain researchers' opinions on gaps in research and steps that need to be taken to advance research on pandemic influenza.