Feeds

Scientists solve 1918 bird flu mystery

Monkey see, monkey flu

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Scientists appear to have solved an enduring mystery surrounding the 1918 outbreak of Spanish flu which killed millions worldwide.

Estimates say the epidemic took 50 million lives, more than the First World War. Unlike most bird flu strains, it was lethal amongst young, healthy people.

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 nomenclature 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."

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."

The researchers write that symptoms of the disease appeared within 24 hours of the monkeys' exposure to Spanish flu. They became so ill they were were euthanised after only 8 days of a scheduled 21 day trial.

The type of cascading immune response the virus induced is known as a "cytokine storm". Cytokines are the protein messengers released by cells which modulate the immune system. A comparable cytokine storm was implicated in the disastrous drug trial last year which hospitalised six volunteers.

The team's work to rebuild and study Spanish flu will help understanding of how the rapidly-evolving disease becomes more deadly. The current H5N1 strain appears to have similar immune-fiddling powers in birds. ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
ASTEROID'S SHOCK DINO-KILLING SPREE just bad luck - boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.