“Superbug” Fears Remote, But Swine Flu Fitter Than Other Strains

By Matthew Harwood

Researchers experimenting with various flu strains in ferrets found no evidence that a super-virulent hybrid flu strain could arise but did discover that swine flu out competes other flu strains, reports the University of Maryland Newsdesk.

The laboratory study at the University of Maryland-College Park exposed ferrets to three different flu viruses, including H1N1, commonly known as swine flu. The much feared flu strain has hospitalized nearly 9,000 Americans, killing 556 since the flu’s emergence this past April, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Worldwide, swine flu has infected 209,438 people with at least 2,185 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.

Currently, the virus is declining in the Southern Hemisphere and migrating to the Northern Hemisphere for the fall and winter, reports MSNBC.com.

While the researchers discovered nothing to support fears that the swine flu could merge with a seasonal flu strain to create a “superbug,” they did find out that swine flu reproduced twice as fast in the ferrets. The experiments results have already been published in PLOS Currents, an online journal that gives fast access to research in the public interest.

“The H1N1 pandemic virus has a clear biological advantage over the two main seasonal flu strains and all the makings of a virus fully adapted to humans,” says virologist Daniel Perez, the lead researcher and program director of the University of Maryland-based Prevention and Control of Avian Influenza Coordinated Agricultural Project.

Perez explains that he wasn’t surprised to find swine flu more infectious, considering that’s its recent emergence means hosts haven’t developed resistance to it yet, as they have older strains.

The researchers also exposed ferrets to both swine flu and one of the seasonal varieties. Ferrets exposed to the two strains developed respiratory and intestinal symptoms. Perez wonders whether double infections could be the reason for the deaths attributed to swine flu but says more research needs to occur.

The researchers also discovered that the swine flu strain burrows deeper into the infected’s respiratory system while the two other seasonal flu strains stayed within the infected’s nasal passages.

“Our findings underscore the need for vaccinating against the pandemic flu virus this season,” Perez told the NewsDesk. “The findings of this study are preliminary, but the far greater communicability of the pandemic virus serves as a clearly blinking warning light.”

In related news, three federal agencies have joined forces with Sesame Street to educate children how to prevent the spread of swine flu, which tends to stricken children and young families, reports The Washington Post‘s Spencer Hsu.

Last week, according to MSNBC.com, a White House advisory panel warned that 60 to 120 million Americans could become infected this fall and winter, with mortality projections as high as 90,000. The CDC, however, rebutted those projections as unlikely the very next day.

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