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Avian flu in perspective: New England Journal article reviews 'spectacular' findings

ST. LOUIS -- An article by Robert Belshe, M.D., of Saint Louis University School of Medicine in this week's New England Journal of Medicine reviews recent "spectacular achievements of contemporary molecular biology" that hold great importance as the world prepares for a possible flu pandemic.

These achievements, including a recent genetic sequencing and recreation of the virus from the 1918 flu pandemic, "may enable us to track viruses years before they develop the capacity to replicate with high efficiency in humans," Belshe writes.

The new knowledge of the genetic sequences of influenza viruses that predate the 1918 epidemic will be "extremely helpful in determining the events that may lead to the adaptation of avian viruses to humans before the occurrence of pandemic influenza."

And as the virus continues to adapt, scientists now know what to look for. Belshe said scientists should conduct worldwide surveillance to monitor this adaptation process.

"It gives us some reassurance that by continuing to monitor the current virus in birds, we can get a sense as to when it'll be an efficient virus," Belshe says. "We may have some time to develop new vaccines and better therapies."

Belshe reviews recent articles in Science and Nature as part of his perspective article "The Origins of Pandemic Influenza " Lessons from the 1918 Virus."

The lead author of the research in Nature was Jeffery Taubenberger, M.D., Ph.D., of the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and the research in Science was led by Terrence Tumpey, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"These recent research findings involving avian flu are startling, and they tell us that there are at least two mechanisms by which a pandemic influenza epidemic could emerge," Belshe says. "This research provides critically important insight into the origin of pandemic influenza."

Both mechanisms described in the articles were observed
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Contact: Joe Muehlenkamp
muehlenk@slu.edu
314-977-8015
Saint Louis University
23-Nov-2005


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