Swine Flu Renamed as Novel H1N1 Virus – Origins And Evolution
Swine flu has affected about 100,000 people and killed about 450 people around the world till now. Swine flu is so called because of its origins in the flu that infected pigs.
But new research has shed more light on the evolution of swine flu and how fatal the virus can become. The swine flu virus is now called Novel H1N1 virus.
The structure of novel H1N1 virus:
All influenza viruses have 8 genes. Two of the genes, Hemagglutinin(H) and Neuraminidase(N), are responsible for the ability of the virus to enter a cell and spread from cell to cell.
There are 16 H sub-types and 9 N sub-types. This makes a total of 144 combinations possible. Variations in these combination determine how fast this virus can spread and how dangerous the virus can be for people.
Research into origins of novel H1N1 virus:
Research funded by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has put together a picture as to where the novel H1N1 virus came from and how it has evolved.
The research found out that the novel H1N1 virus has its origins not only in swine flu, but also in the virus that caused a pandemic in 1918. The pandemic had killed 40-50 million people around the world.
Research into potential danger from novel H1N1 virus:
A NIGMS funded team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a team from Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) came together to research the ability of the novel H1N1 virus to spread and cause disease.
The researchers infected mice and ferrets with the novel H1N1 virus. They found that the virus replicated in higher levels in the respiratory tract, and was more deadly than seasonal viruses. They also found the virus infecting the intestinal tracts of the ferrets, which is not seen in seasonal flus.
The ability of the novel H1N1 virus to spread through respiratory droplets was found to be lower than seasonal flu viruses. The ability of a flu virus to bind to cells is regulated by Hemagglutinin(H). This is less effective in novel H1N1 than seasonal flus. Also, the novel H1N1 virus did not have a version of another gene called PB2, which helps a virus spread efficiently.
However, the researchers point out that flu viruses mutate very quickly to acquire properties that help them spread faster. The novel H1N1 virus can easily exchange genes of other flu viruses to become more efficient.
Experts say that researching into how the novel H1N1 virus evolves is very important in preventing a pandemic. No doubt, careful attention will be paid to how this virus evolves by researchers around the world.
For more details on the subject visit National Institutes of Health website.