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1950s pandemic influenza virus remains a health threat, particularly to those under 50
Date:12/3/2013

(MEMPHIS, TENN. December 3, 2013) St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have evidence that descendants of the H2N2 avian influenza A virus that killed millions worldwide in the 1950s still pose a threat to human health, particularly to those under 50. The research has been published in an advance online edition of the Journal of Virology.

The study included 22 H2N2 avian viruses collected from domestic poultry and wild aquatic birds between 1961 and 2008, making it the most comprehensive analysis yet of avian H2N2 viruses.

Researchers reported the 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.

Researchers found evidence the viruses were susceptible to current antiviral medications and could likely be controlled with an available prototype vaccine.

Such protection was unavailable in 1957 when an H2N2 virus that included genes from avian flu viruses emerged. Federal health officials estimate the 1957-58 pandemic 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.

"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 corresponding author Robert Webster, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases. "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."

The research stems from the institution's role as a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disea
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Contact: Carrie Strehlau
carrie.strehlau@stjude.org
901-595-2295
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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