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Mouse study reveals new clues about virulence of 1918 influenza virus

The first comprehensive analysis of an animal's immune response to the 1918 influenza virus provides new insights into the killer flu, report federally supported scientists in an article appearing online today in the journal Nature. Key among these insights, they found that the 1918 virus triggers a hyperactive immune response that may contribute to the lethality of the virus. Furthermore, their results suggest that it is the combination of all eight of the 1918 flu virus genes interacting synergistically that accounts for the exceptional virulence of this virus.

Michael G. Katze, Ph.D., of the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, a grantee of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), led the research team with University of Washington's John Kash, Ph.D. The work with the fully reconstructed 1918 virus was conducted by coauthor Terrence Tumpey, Ph.D., in a biosafety level 3-enhanced laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

"Understanding as much as possible about the virus that caused the devastating 1918-1919 influenza pandemic is an urgent imperative as we pursue efforts to prepare for--and possibly thwart--the next flu pandemic," says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

"This elegant research gives a detailed picture of the overzealous host reaction to infection by a fully reconstructed 1918 influenza virus," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "The research provides clues as to why the flu of 1918 was so deadly, and may also help us better understand the disease process that occurs when people are infected by emerging avian influenza viruses, such as the H5N1 strain."

Unlike typical seasonal flu, which strikes hardest at the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune function, the 1918 flu disproportionately killed young people in the prime of life. Modern analyses of 1918 flu v
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Source:NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


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