Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New article from Laurie Garrett on swine flu, avian flu and pandemics

Laurie Garrett, a highly respected reporter and author of 2 books and many articles on public health and influenza has a new article in newsweek. It's a great description of why some of the the flu viruses currently circulating in humans and animal (H1N1 seasonal flu, H1N1 swine-origin flu, H5N1 avian flu) should remain a concern. I especially like how Garrett describes science in a vivid lanague that helps people understand these concepts.

An excerpt -

"At the viral level, influenza is an awfully sloppy microbe that is in a constant state of mutation and evolution. Its genetic material is in the form of RNA (not DNA, as in humans), loosely collected into chromosomes. When a virus infects a cell, its chromosomes essentially fall apart into a mess, which is copied to make more viruses that then enter the bloodstream to spread throughout the body. Along the way in this copying process any other genetic material that may be lying about the cell is also stuffed into the thousands of viral copies that are made. If the virus happens to be reproducing this way inside a human cell, it picks up Homo sapiensgenetic material; from a chicken cell it absorbs avian genes; and from a pig cell it garners swine RNA. The jackpot events in influenza evolution occur when two different types of flu viruses happen to get into an animal cell at the same time, swapping entire chromosomes to create "reassorted" viruses."

I highly reccomend the whole article at:


No comments: