The H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 underscored weaknesses in methods widely used to diagnose the flu, from frequent false negatives to long wait times for results. Now Boston University researchers have developed a prototype of a rapid, low-cost, accurate, point-of-care device that promises to provide clinicians with an effective tool to quickly diagnose both seasonal and pandemic strains of influenza, and thus limit the spread of infection. Boston University Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Catherine Klapperich led the team of engineering and medical researchers that developed the disposable microfluidic chip the size of a microscope slide that aims to take the place of expensive, time-consuming, laboratory-based diagnostic tests now in use. The chip essentially miniaturizes the RT-PCR test, now considered the gold standard in flu detection, producing faster, cheaper and accurate results.
What do changes in weather and stressed-out birds have to do with your health? In a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jeffry Shaman of Columbia University and Marc Lipsitch of Harvard University are beginning to see a new link between La Nina conditions and outbreaks of the flu that could help governments and public health officials determine when the next pandemic will strike. To examine the connection between La NiĆ a and flu pandemics, Shaman and Lipsitch looked at the four most recent, well-dated human influenza pandemics - 1918, 1957, 1968 and 2009 - and compared them to El NiĆ o Southern Oscillation conditions. Is the relationship between the two causal or coincidental? What other factors could contribute to this strange concurrence? Find out more online.
A genetic finding could help explain why influenza becomes a life-threating disease to some people while it has only mild effects in others. New research led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has identified for the first time a human gene that influences how we respond to influenza infection. People who carry a particular variant of a gene called IFITM3 are significantly more likely to be hospitalised when they fall ill with influenza than those who carry other variants, the team found. This gene plays a critical role in protecting the body against infection with influenza and a rare version of it appears to make people more susceptible to severe forms of the disease. The results are published in the journal Nature. A central question about viruses is why some people suffer badly from an infection and others do not.
People with a rare variant of a gene that codes for an anti-viral protein are more likely to end up in hospital seriously ill when they get the flu than others who carry other variants, according to new research led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK that was published in Nature on Sunday. People who do not have the rare variant of IFITM3 only have mild reactions to the influenza virus, said the researchers who found the gene codes for a protein that is important for helping the body defend itself against the virus. It appears that when there is plenty of IFITM3 protein in the body, the flu virus can't penetrate deep into the lungs. The 2009 H1N1 " swine flu " pandemic showed how quickly a new virus can spread, and how a generally mild infection can become serious and even kill a small subset of the population, the authors write in their background information.
Few people know about the participation of Brazil in Word War I. Although Brazil remained neutral during most of the conflict, it eventually sent a fleet to support the war effort against the central powers. It was the only Latin-American country to do so. But the Brazilian expedition encountered an unexpected and treacherous enemy in the African coast against which -like all other Armies- it was not prepared for: the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu swept the globe in 1918-1919 and in a few months made more victims than the total number of battlefield deaths during the war. Estimates range from approximately 20 to 50 million deaths worldwide, making it one of the most devastating public health crises of recent history. Still, only in a few places the pandemic was as deadly as among the Brazilian fleet sent to the coast of Senegal.