What's new in influenza?

Burnet Institute

14 December, 2012

Celebrating 25 years of publishing, Issues Magazine has released a special anniversary edition, featuring an update on influenza by Burnet Senior Fellow and virologist, Emeritus Professor Greg Tannock.

Influenza is an unvarying disease caused by a varying virus. - E.D. Kilbourne, The Influenza Virus and Influenza, Academic Press, N.Y., 1975

We now know that this statement, made at a time when memories of the great pandemic of 1918-19 were beginning to fade, is true of most seasonal influenza epidemics. However caution is needed when making sweeping generalisations about influenza disease and influenza viruses.

In the March 2006 edition of Issues Magazine, I conjectured that there was an enormous and rapidly increasing reservoir of H5N1 avian influence viruses with a potential to infect humans.

As with other influenza A viruses, mutation was an ongoing phenomenon and clear genetic divergence had been noted between strains isolated from different parts of South East Asia since 2003.

The presence of these divergent strains or clades complicated the task of vaccine development. I further conjectured that, if critical changes to the avian virus genome took place, the virus could develop a capacity to rapidly spread in the absence of a bird host (i.e. to become humanised).

Fortunately, over the past six years such changes have not occurred and the total number of reported cases is 600-700, with a mortality of 50-60 per cent. Mortality appears almost exclusively confined to individuals in close contact with poultry or aquatic birds.

CLICK HERE to read Professor Tannock’s article in full on the Issues Magazine website.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Gregory Tannock

Emeritus Professor, Burnet Institute Visiting Fellow




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