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Business

We ferret out the latest flu questions

University of Maryland researchers write that patients infected with both swine and seasonal flu are not becoming martini glasses of super flu bugs. The bad news is these patients are ferrets.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

While parents eagerly await word of whether their college kids are infected with H1N1 "swine" flu, the news elsewhere is pretty good.

(Picture from the blog Billmelater.)

On the vaccine front Novartis says their MF59 vaccine may be able to deliver patients immunity from the bug in one shot. Chinese officials say they have also approved a one-shot vaccine.

The fear this spring was multiple shots would be needed, stretched out over time, so some folks might get the first and forget the second, giving the bug a chance to fight back.

There is even good news here for swine. Pigs don't really have the swine flu, although they could get it from people. Still, Pfizer is developing a vaccine for pigs from the "master seed virus" given it by the Department of Agriculture.

The big news today is on the transmission front.

University of Maryland researchers write at PLoS Currents: Influenza that patients infected with both swine and seasonal flu are not becoming martini glasses of super flu bugs.

The bad news is these patients are ferrets.

The process by which viruses can mix is called reassortment, and it happens when two viruses meet in the same host cell. That didn't happen to the ferrets Maryland infected, and ferrets are usually good analogs to humans for this kind of work.

What seems to be happening, the researchers note, is that the new strain is crowding out the normal, seasonal strain. It's more fit, like a python in a Florida swamp or a gray squirrel introduced into a wood filled with red ones. Or a killer bee.

You get sicker from swine flu than from seasonal flu, and it's possible that swine flu may replace seasonal flu as a threat, but we can deal with it.

Bottom line is don't panic. But stack up on the Kleenexes, designate a sick room and get some chicken soup on the stove. It's going to be a bumpy night.

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