25 April 2009

What's Part Pig, Part Bird, Part Human?

I know that sounds like the beginning of a joke; but, in this case, the answer is not funny:

You have probably heard of the fatal outbreak in Mexico of a strain of influenza virus that is causing a lot of concern around the world. The culprit is thought to be an animal variant of the H1N1 virus.

What makes this fascinating is:

a: this variant is thought to be a combination of strains found in humans, birds and pigs now found in a single virus

b: this variant was the root of the influenza outbreak that killed more than 40,000,000 people around the world circa 1918-1920. (Called "Spanish Influenza" although its first known case was in America.)

c: just last year, the Centers for Disease Control reported on the resistance of variants of H1N1 to Oseltamivir -- a very strong and wide-spread antiviral.

d: a company predicted in April 2008 a high probability of a major outbreak in the H1N1 virus.

Back in January I wrote about the prevailing school of thought that we were going to start seeing more and more outbreaks of once-common and easily treatable infectious diseases. This would appear to be the next in a (probably) long line of such events.

Will this Mexico outbreak be the beginning of the next big pandemic? One can only wonder.

You can read more about the recent Mexico outbreak here.

The CDC has a report on the spread of the H1N1 virus to America here.

You can read the 2008 prediction here.

You can read about the history of the 1918 influenza outbreak (featured in the illustration) here.

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