Can spread between humansAttaches to receptors in the upperrespiratory tract causing mildillnessA pandemic is thought to beimminent
What this outbreak doeshighlight is how difficult it is topredict new pandemic strains
Professor Jonathan Ball, NottinghamUniversity
bind to and what we see is that it is binding to the upper respiratorytract rather than deep in the lungs."When a flu virus binds to theupper respiratory tract, it tends tocause mild illness but can beeasily spread as people cough andsneeze, Professor Barclayexplains.If a virus binds further down inthe lungs, it tends to cause much more severe illness, as in the caseof the H5N1 avian flu virus which has caused concern in recentyears."With the H1 gene we also look at the cleavage site," she adds."The virus has to be cut into two pieces to be active and it uses anenzyme in the host to do that."Most influenza viruses are restricted to the respiratory tractbecause they use enzymes in the lungs."But some, like H5 viruses can evolve to cut into two pieces outsidethe lungs, so they can replicate outside the respiratory tract."
These initial indications are largely guesswork from looking at thegenetic sequence of the virus and comparing that to what is knownfrom work on other influenza viruses.It will take weeks and months of biological analysis to properly get ahandle on the potential of the H1N1 virus.The team at Mill Hill, one of four World Health Organisation'scentres for influenza research will be working in close collaborationwith the Health Protection Agency who are carrying out testing inthe UK, and their findings will also feed into the development of apotential vaccine.Soon, the Wellcome Trust SangerInstitute in Cambridge will beginthe genetic sequencing of thevirus and will also be monitoringany mutations or changes in howvirulent it is.However, there is one other reassuring aspect about what is knownso far.That is there seems to be nothing unusual as yet in another proteinin the centre of the virus, called NS1, which is linked to the strength
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BBC NEWS | Health | What scientists know about swine fluhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8028371.stm2 of 321/08/2009 17:34