Friday, 1 May 2009

Flu flu go away, come again another day (when I don't have exams)

Right I should be revising for those finals but with my arm hurting I am using it as an excuse not to write practice essays today and typing doesn't put as much strain on it (I think).

So Swine flu/Mexican flu/H1N1 flu has brought Mexico to a halt and scared the rest of the world into a panic. Big mouth Vice-president Biden of the USA has done it again saying he wouldn't trust travelling etc. fair point but you are trying to calm the masses as a leader. From what is humble virologist wannabe can see is this new hybrid strain made from genes of avian, swine and human flu is doing is spreading very quickly among people. For some reason it has killed lots in Mexico (allegedly) but only causing mild cases elsewhere. Today however the researcher at Mill Hill have suggested this strain is not very deadly. This paints a rather paradoxical picture. We see many deaths in Mexico from a fast spreading flu. Yes the world should be worried and has done the right thing by preparing for the worse. But we have only seen mild cases in most people outside Mexico and its genome suggests it is only mild. It doesnt have the make-up that causes cytokine storm that kills young people (like Spanish flu did). That is one thing not to worry about (right now). Plus it only infects cells near the top of the respiratory track so doesn't cause infections deep in the lungs, making it easy to spread but not as deadly as some.

So two things need to be thought about 1) why has it killed so many people in Mexico? and 2) what shall we call it? I am not going to tackle the first but I have some thought. The second I think should be Mexican flu. Swine flu is hurting the pig farming industry (some countries have banned pork imports!) while H1N1 is just rubbish. Loads of flu strains are called H1N1. Some seasonal flu is H1N1 and Spanish flu of 1919 was H1N1!!! I personally think the H and N naming system is out dated and inaccurate. It is not the H and N proteins that make a virus what is is per se but the many other changes with them.

Closing thought though, Flu has a high mutation rate with its RNA genome (no where near HIV but still more than what we would like) so changes may occur soon that could be game changers.