Scientists re-create deadly pandemic virus
Last Updated Wed, 05 Oct 2005 14:46:14 EDT
Scientists in the United States say they have re-created the lethal influenza virus that killed 50 million people in 1918 and 1919. And they have concluded that the bug probably originated as an avian bug and then spread to people.
The researchers from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported their findings Wednesday in the Journals "Nature" and "Science".
The findings may suggest that the threat of an avian flu pandemic is even greater than previously thought.
At least 66 deaths already have been attributed to the so-called "bird flu", a fierce virus that is widespread in poultry and has been turning up in humans in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia since late 2003.
The growing fear of a flu pandemic led U.S. President George Bush to speculate Tuesday on possible American reactions to such a crisis, including quarantines of infected groups of people.
Jeffrey Taubenberger, the Armed Forces Institute researcher who led one the studies, told The Wall Street Journal that getting to the bottom of the 1918 influenza catastrophe is no longer an academic or historical exercise.
The historical virus, created in a secure CDC lab by one of the research teams, was called "exceptionally virulent".
According to Terence Tumpey, a senior scientist at CDC who led that research team, it quickly killed embryonated chicken eggs and mice.
The team also discovered that the 1918 bug had an unusual ability to penetrate cells deep in the lungs that flu bugs don't normally reach, providing a clue as to why its symptoms were so severe.
Dr. Tumpey said the virus experiments were approved by two CDC committees and conducted under strict safety and security standards.