H7N9 Influenza Virus: A Perfect Pathogen?

Artist’s rendition of a virus particle.

It’s late October and here in Wisconsin, like many of you, we are experiencing a change of seasons, with the associated drop in temperatures, changes in leaf color and later this week, Halloween.

Another thing that comes with fall is the start of cold and flu season. By “flu”, I mean influenza, caused by avian influenza viruses of the H-N type. Recent research results by teams at UWI-Madison and in Japan, makes the coming influenza season potentially more scary than usual.

In a recent Cell Host & Microbe paper, M. Imai et al. study a seemingly more virulent version of H7N9 avian influenza virus that is startling in its ability to spread from infected to healthy animal models. Based on a current epidemic of H7N9, human-to-human transmission with this strain is increasing. Continue reading

What’s in the H1N1 Vaccine Anyway?

I’m a microbiologist. I wash my hands often, I don’t eat canned green beans or any home-canned food (due to a horrible botulism example given in a bacteriology class), I don’t ask for antibiotics if I just have a cold, and I believe in vaccination programs.

Recently, due to the various controversies surrounding the H1N1 vaccine, and because I just gave permission for my children to be vaccinated at school, I have been thinking about vaccination rather a lot. Even though I believe absolutely in the benefits of vaccination, I also have the usual concerns when considering whether to accept a new vaccine for my children. So, when I read or hear sensational press coverage over emphasizing vaccination risks, I worry, and I want to hear a balanced viewpoint.

So I thought I would share what I have learned about the H1N1 vaccine. Continue reading

H1N1 Influenza

swine_flu_headlineIt’s hard not to panic in the light of recent pandemic fears and the frightening possibilities conjured up by the thought of a novel flu virus with the propensity for person-to-person spread (1-3). The specter of the 1918 pandemic has raised its ugly head, and we are left feeling intensely vulnerable to an invisible and ever-changing enemy. Have science and history left us more prepared to combat this virus than those who suffered during the devastating 1918 outbreak? Continue reading