An ongoing dialogue on HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases,
May 3rd, 2009
H1N1! Didn’t You Used to Be Swine Flu?
At the end of last week, “swine flu” became “H1N1”. The CDC web site explains why:
This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and avian genes and human genes. Scientists call this a “quadruple reassortant” virus.
(Note the URL: http://cdc.gov/h1n1flu/swineflu_you.htm. Hmmm.)
Meanwhile, H1N1 (I’ll get used to it) is off the front page of the newspaper, at least the ones around these parts. A sign we’re in the clear, or just our short attention span?
I think you know the answer.
Still, for some very well-reasoned reassurance, I’ve been referring my non-medical friends and family to this excellent summary in the Wall Street Journal by Peter Palese from Mount Sinai. A key point:
Although the swine virus currently circulating in humans is different from the 1976 virus, it is most likely not more virulent than the other seasonal strains we have experienced over the past several years. It lacks an important molecular signature (the protein PB1-F2) which was present in the 1918 virus and in the highly lethal H5N1 chicken virus.
Of course no one really knows what is going to happen — other virulence properties might be present, next year’s seasonal outbreak could be worse, etc — but it’s welcome to hear some balanced views in the mainstream media along with all the hoopla.