Reconstructed 1918 influenza virus has yielded key insights, scientists say

September 11, 2012

The genetic sequencing and reconstruction of the 1918 influenza virus that killed 50 million people worldwide have advanced scientists' understanding of influenza biology and yielded important information on how to prevent and control future pandemics, according to a new commentary by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and several other institutions.

By sequencing the 1918 virus, researchers were able to confirm that the viruses that caused influenza pandemics in 1957, 1968, and 2009 were all descended in part from the 1918 virus. Studies showed that the 2009 pandemic virus had structural similarities with the 1918 virus and explained why younger people, who had never been exposed to the 1918 virus or its early descendants, were most vulnerable to infection by the 2009 influenza virus. As a result, were able to target limited vaccine supplies to predominantly younger people, who needed vaccine protection most, rather than the elderly, who were at lower risk of infection in 2009, but are traditionally the most important target group for vaccination. Further, determining the physical structure of parts of the 1918 virus, particularly the portions that are consistent across , has informed the ongoing development of candidate "universal" that may be given infrequently yet protect broadly against multiple influenza viruses. In addition, by comparing the 1918 virus to related influenza viruses found in animals, scientists have learned some of the changes necessary for influenza viruses to adapt from an animal to a . This has led to more targeted surveillance of certain influenza viruses in animals that may be more likely to move to humans.

More generally, the authors say that reconstruction of the 1918 influenza virus has furthered scientific understanding of how novel influenza viruses emerge and evolve. Additionally, study of the 1918 influenza virus has helped clarify the critical effects of the human immune system's response to viral infection and the importance of bacterial co-infections that often follow the influenza infection. In sum, the authors write, learning more about the 1918 pandemic has led to important insights that could help prevent or mitigate seasonal and pandemic influenza.

Explore further: Earliest known evidence of 1918 influenza pandemic found

More information: JK Taubenberger et al. Reconstruction of the 1918 influenza virus: Unexpected rewards from the past. mBio DOI: 10.1128/mBio.00201-12 (2012).

Related Stories

Earliest known evidence of 1918 influenza pandemic found

September 19, 2011
Examination of lung tissue and other autopsy material from 68 American soldiers who died of respiratory infections in 1918 has revealed that the influenza virus that eventually killed 50 million people worldwide was circulating ...

Recommended for you

Sex diseases in US surge to record high

September 26, 2017
Sexually transmitted diseases surged to a record high in the United States last year, with more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis nationwide, officials said Tuesday.

Potential Zika vaccine protects against pregnancy transmission and testicular damage

September 26, 2017
For the first time, a collaborative team led by The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has shown that a potential Zika vaccine quickly can protect fetuses against infection as well as protect males against testicular ...

Antibiotics warranted for kids with minor staph infections

September 26, 2017
The overuse of antibiotics has left some doctors questioning whether to give such drugs to children diagnosed with uncomplicated staph infections. Such infections often occur on the skin and look like a pus-filled bug bite.

Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections

September 22, 2017
Group A Streptococcus bacteria cause a variety of illnesses that range from mild nuisances like strep throat to life-threatening conditions including pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome and the flesh-eating disease formally known ...

Ecosystem approach makes urinary tract infection more treatable

September 22, 2017
The biological term 'ecosystem' is not usually associated with urinary tract infections, but this should change according to Wageningen scientists.

Residents: Frontline defenders against antibiotic resistance?

September 22, 2017
Antibiotic resistance continues to grow around the world, with sometimes disastrous results. Some strains of bacteria no longer respond to any currently available antibiotic, making death by infections that were once easily ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.