Flu can bide time in icy limbo before re-emerging, BGSU biologist states

BOWLING GREEN, O.It sounds like the stuff of a campy 50s horror movie (It Came from the Ice!), but a Bowling Green State University biologist believes its a very real possibility.

Dr. Scott Rogers is talking about the potential for long-dormant strains of influenza, packed in ice in remote global outposts, to be unleashed by melting and migratory birds.

Weve found viral RNA in the ice in Siberia, and its along the major flight paths of migrating waterfowl, whose pathways take them to North America, Asia and Australia, and interconnect with other migratory paths to Europe and Africa, explains Rogers.

Viruses, he says, can be preserved in ice over long periods of time, then released decades later when humans may no longer be immune to them. For instance, survivors of the worldwide flu pandemic of 1918 had immunity to the responsible straincalled H1N1but that immunity has died with them, meaning a recurrence could take hold as an epidemic.

H1, the first of 16 versions of the protein heamagglutinin, is what Rogers and his Russian and Israeli colleagues sought in their research, which will be published in the December issue of the Journal of Virology. The BGSU professor and biology department chair believes it to be the first time anyone has found, and maybe even looked for, the viral RNA in ice.

The information could be used to help develop inoculation strategies for the future, according to Rogers, who also collaborates with Gang Zhang, a doctoral student who has performed the laboratory work at BGSU.

He points out that the World Health Organization annually considers what flu strains are emerging in hopes of tailoring vaccines accordingly. Sometimes theyre wrong, he says. We thought that by looking at whats melting and what birds are picking up, better guesses for the next year might be possible.

The researchers are looking to expand their examination to Canadian and Alaskan lakes, along with those in G

Contact: Scott Borgelt
Bowling Green State University

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