Organism of the month Jan 2009 – the Influenza virus

from the NIH website

As you’ve probably heard, there are many different strains of the virus, and it mutates rapidly, which makes it very hard to keep up with vaccines. And although there are lots of infectious agents who cause flu-like symptoms, Influenza is the real deal. Wrongly assumed to be trivial, flu is actually a hard-hitting illness, and the A-type of the influenza virus is very capable of killing. (B and C types usually cause minor illnesses.)

Typical of an animal virus, (of course there are others which infect bacteria, fungi or plants) influenza comes in an envelope of cell membrane, wrapped up as it emerges from an infected cell. This makes it easy for the virus to attach to the next, new cell. It also protects the DNA inside, but that’s why it is also vulnerable to dessication and temperature change.

How does a virus live?

Viruses are, basically, a package of DNA or RNA. A virus does not have its own active cells, tissues or bodies, and so instead they must come to life within hosts, on a sub-microscopic scale, within cells. (Artist’s impressions of viruses, as above, are informed by electron microscopy images and biochemistry studies.)

They reproduce by putting the infected animal’s cells to work – which copy the virus DNA and launch many new viruses. As a result of the biochemical activity being hijacked by the virus genes, the acquired cell membrane carries a new range of embedded glycoproteins which reveal some of the influenza’s genetic toolkit.

The membrane proteins are used to classify the different strains, such as H5N1, where the H refers to the hemagglutinin and the N relates to the neuraminidase glycoproteins.

Origins

Surprisingly, humans have not always been burdened by the threat of influenza. Can you guess where the flu virus comes from? Watch the revelations in this short clip of a presentation by Dr Michael Greger.

Michael, working for the Humane Society of the United States, has toured with a shocking presentation all about bird flu, and how he thinks we should tackle the problem of a pandemic – not by cure but by prevention.

HSUS, with the help of the Sheepdrove Trust ,  has made a DVD showing the whole presentation. The Humane Society is most associated with animal welfare, so what’s the link to avian influenza?

The future of flu?

Industrialised poultry farming, according to the evidence highlighted, not only spreads the virus rapidly via supply routes, but also provides the perfect environment for generate dangerous strains such as H5N1. Thousands of birds kept in cramped conditions and traded in millions across vast distances. No longer does the bird flu virus have to ‘care’ about the survival of its host – usually a low rate of casualties ensures that a virus gets carried to new victims – a high rate of death becomes a viable result for the virus when it is so easy to reach the next bird.

So, apparently, a pandemic is made more likely by the modern poultry industry.

Find out more about the threat of an influenza pandemic worse than the global 1918 influenza outbreak by buying the Pandemic Prevention DVD or the book Bird Flu – a Virus of Our Own Hatching. Amazingly, they reckon it’s such an important issue that they published a FREE version of the book online.

I strongly recommend you visit the Bird Flu book website.

Jason Ball on the Natureheads blog.

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