Thursday, January 18, 2007

Solving the Spanish Flu

This is really quite fascinating at The Register. It looks as if someone has finally worked out what it weas that made the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak so dangerous:

A Canadian lab reconstucted the Spanish flu virus from human tissues preserved in the Alaskan permafrost and infected macaque monkeys. Their findings were reported on Thursday in the journal Nature, and should give a better view of how the virus killed humans than earlier work with infected mice.

It turns out that the H1N1 Spanish flu virus (the current bird flu threat is from H5N1, the nomeclature derived from the proteins which coat the virus) killed 50 million by over-stimulating their immune system, causing the lungs to inflame and rapidly fill with liquid. Lead author Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin said: "Essentially people are drowned by themselves."

That then explains why it was so lethal amongst the young and healthy:

So a young, healthy person with a young, healthy immune system would be a ripe victim for the 1918 strain. Associated Press reports co-author Michael Katze, of the University of Wahington, said: "It was the robustness of the immune system that helped victimize them."


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