June 15, 2010
H1N1 Flu Vaccine Protects Against 1918 Strain
The current H1N1 vaccine provides some protection against the 1918 strain that killed tens of millions of people.
WHAT: Mice injected with a 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza vaccine and then exposed to high levels of the virus responsible for the 1918 influenza pandemic do not get sick or die, report scientists funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. The new vaccine works against the old virus because the 1918 and the 2009 strains of H1N1 influenza share features that allow vaccine-generated antibodies to recognize both viruses. To learn more, similar challenge studies need to be conducted in other animals, including monkeys, but the investigators say their results suggest people who are vaccinated against 2009 H1N1 influenza or were exposed to the virus could have similarly cross-protective antibodies against the 1918 strain of H1N1. This finding, they add, should help allay concerns about the potential consequences of an accidental release of the 1918 influenza virus from high-containment laboratories or its possible use as a bioterror weapon.
The recurrence of a strain like the 1918 influenza pandemic strain would kill tens of millions of people. Since it is possible for such a strain to emerge the ability to provide even partial immunity to a strain similar to the 1918 flu might just save your life.
Some lab mice are now fully prepared for a replay of the 1918 pandemic. I'm picturing these mice venturing out of a research lab into a post-apocalyptic landscape after most humans are dead from a killer flu. The mice head for the local cheese shop confident no humans will block their journey.
The researchers administered to three groups of mice either the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine, the seasonal influenza vaccine, or no vaccine at all. Twenty-one days later, the mice were exposed to a lethal dose of the 1918 Spanish influenza virus. The mice receiving the H1N1 vaccine were the only ones to survive, while also exhibiting limited morbidity following the vaccination.
In my darker moments I'm convinced that humanity will eventually be supplanted by post-murine mice, as a result of our determination that every advance in biology be tried out in lab animals before humans get a chance to benefit from them.
I actually got the 2009 H1N1 innoculation, so I guess I can cross off getting the 1918 strain from my "Things to Obsessively Fret About" list.
But does the whole "exposed to a lethal dose of the 1918 Spanish influenza virus" part bother anyone besides me? Is this the stuff they reanimated from some corpse they found in the permafrost in Alaska?
I'm thinking what Randall meant to say was "I'm picturing these mice venturing out of a research lab into a post-apocalyptic landscape after most humans are dead from a killer flu ACCIDENTALLY RELEASED BY SOME CARELESS SCIENTISTS AT NIAID WHILE THEY WERE OUT ON A COFFEE BREAK."
Who managed to get samples of live 1918 virus? What was the source? How do they know it IS the 1918 variant and not something that has mutated and developed since then?
Your questions are answered in some detail in Gina Kolata's book Flu : The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic. One retired doctor got the flu samples from frozen bodies in Alaska. The story of how he beat a large government team is pretty inspiring. It was the best part of the book.
I shall get the book and find out more. I had understood that attempts to get the virus from Alaska failed- seems someone managed to get some out after all.
Terrible disease. Awful way to suffer and die.
If a killer flu ever happens either due to mutation or accidental release be ready to isolate yourself very quickly for an extended period of time. Until a vaccine is developed and then produced in the hundreds of millions of doses going out in public will be risky business.
The guy who managed to get the samples first tried to do so as a grad student and failed. A few decades later with much better tools he succeeded. His second attempt is, again, quite inspiring. As a libertarian you'll love it.
Thank God for this. Now I can safely travel back to 1918 in that time machine I'm assembling in my toolshed.
Pedant alarm. Just for the record, mice do not like cheese.:)