Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New H1N1 Mutation

An article published in Science Daily today reveals that a mutation in the H1N1 strain of influenza virus (aka "swine flu") may allow it to become more easily transmitted from person to person. The strain of flu that the WHO declared a pandemic back in 2009 is actually a mixture of human, bird, and pig influenza genes. Despite the enormous amount of media attention it got, it proved to not be significantly deadlier or more debilitating than the seasonal flu humans encounter nearly every year. The swine flu proved to be relatively inefficient at moving from person to person... until now. Researchers at MIT have discovered a mutation that may allow this flu virus to transmit much more rapidly and effectively from person to person. A potentially deadly mutation to the virus' hemagglutin has been identified, but this should allow to WHO to quickly identify any outbreaks of the potential new strain and determine how deadly it can be. MIT scientists merely altered 1 amino acid chain that allowed the Hemagglutin to bind much more strongly to respiratory cells, increasing its ability to infect as well as kill humans. They identified this mutation as being a very possible one for the swine flu to evolve into. As the article is quick to point out (namely, the first few sentences), this potential two-wave pattern of flu outbreak is similar to the infamous 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed around 50 million people. Keep your fingers crossed everyone.

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