Dr. Johan Hultin died at the age of 97; His work helped isolate the 1918 flu virus

Dr. Johan V. Hultin, a pathologist, whose discovery of victims of the 1918 flu pandemic buried in the Alaskan permafrost led to an important understanding of the virus that caused it. outbreak, died on January 22 at his home in Walnut Creek, California. is 97.

The death was confirmed by his wife, Eileen Barbara Hultin.

Dr. Hultin’s discovery is important in finding the genetic sequence of the virus, allowing researchers to see what made it so deadly and how to recognize if it has recurred. This virus is 25 times more deadly than the common flu virus, has killed tens of millions of people and infected 28% of Americans, reducing the average life expectancy in the US by 12 years.

Dr. Hultin’s quest to find victims of the 1918 flu was kicked off in 1950 by an in-person lunch remark with University of Iowa microbiologist William Hale. Dr. Hale mentioned that there is only one way to find out what caused the 1918 pandemic: to find victims buried in the permafrost and isolate the virus from the lungs that could have remained frozen and preserved. manage.

Dr. Hultin, a medical student in Sweden who was studying for six months at the university, immediately realized that he was uniquely positioned to do so. Last summer, he and his first wife, Gunvor, spent weeks assisting a German paleontologist, Otto Geist, during a dig in Alaska. Dr. Geist can help him find villages in permafrost areas that also have good records of people dying from the 1918 flu.

After persuading the university to provide him with a $10,000 grant, Dr. Hultin set out for Alaska. That was in early June 1951.

It looked like three villages might have what he wanted, but when he got to the first two, the victims’ graves were already in the permafrost.

The third village on his list, Brevig Mission, is different. The flu ravaged the tiny village, killing 72 of its 80 Inuit residents. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave with a large wooden cross at the ends.

When Dr. Hultin arrived and politely explained his mission, the village council agreed to let him dig. Four days later, he saw his first victim.

“She was a little girl, about 6 to 10 years old. She was wearing a gray pigeon dress, the dress in which she died,” he recalled in an interview in the late 1990s. The child’s hair was braided and tied with colored ribbons. bright red. Dr. Hultin appealed for help from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the team eventually found four more bodies.

They stopped digging. “We’ve had enough,” Dr. Hultin said.

He removed still-frozen lung tissue from his victims, closed the grave, and brought the tissue back to Iowa, where it was frozen on dry ice in the cabin of a small plane.

Back in the lab, Dr. Hultin attempted to culture the virus by injecting lung tissue into fertilized chicken eggs – the standard way for flu viruses to grow. He said he was caught up in the excitement of his experiment and didn’t think about the risk of spreading a deadly virus into the world.

“I miss the sleepless nights,” he said. “I can’t wait until morning to go to my lab and look at the eggs.”

But the virus did not evolve.

He tried poking lung tissue into the nostrils of guinea pigs, guinea pigs and ferrets, but failed to revive the virus.

“The virus is dead,” he said.

Hultin never published his results but took his time, working as a pathologist at a private facility in San Francisco, and hoped for another chance to revive the type. that virus.

His opportunity came in 1997 when, while sitting by the pool on vacation with his wife in Costa Rica, he noticed a The article was published in Science by Dr. Jeffery K. Taubenberger, currently chief of viral pathogenesis and evolution at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It reports a remarkable discovery. Dr. Taubenberger searched a federal archive Pathological samples date from the 1860s and fragments of the 1918 virus were found in lung tissue fragments from two soldiers who died during the 1918 pandemic. The tissue was removed at autopsy, wrapped in paraffin and stored in the warehouse.

Dr. Hultin immediately wrote to Dr. Taubenberger, telling of his trip to Alaska. He suggested going back to Brevig and seeing if he could find more flu victims.

“I remember getting that letter and thinking, ‘God. This is really unbelievable. Dr. Taubenberger said in an interview this week. He thinks the next step will be to apply for a grant to bring Dr. Hultin back to Brevig. If all goes well, Dr. Hultin could return in a year or two.

Dr. Hultin has another idea.

“I can’t go this week but maybe I can go next week,” he told Dr. Taubenberger.

He added that he will be traveling alone and paying for the trip himself so there will be no objections from funding agencies, no delays, no ethics committee and no publicity.

Mrs Hultin told her husband that the village council would never allow him to tamper with the grave again. “I told him it was a fool’s errand,” she recalled on Tuesday.

However, Dr. Hultin found an ally in a council member, Rita Olanna, whose relative had died in the flu pandemic and is buried in that grave. Olanna’s grandmother met Dr. Hultin when he arrived in 1951. Olanna told Dr. Hultin, “My grandmother said you treat the grave with respect.”

He was allowed to open the grave again. This time, four young men in the village helped the cherry.

At first, every body they found was decomposed. Then, late in the afternoon, when the hole was seven meters deep, they found the body of a woman barely intact, her lungs still preserved. He extracted lung tissue and placed it in a preservative solution.

After the tomb was built, he made two wooden crosses to replace the original crucifix that had rotted. He then got two bronze plaques engraved with the names of Brevig flu victims, already recorded, and returned to the village to attach them to new crosses beside the grave.

Back in San Francisco, Dr. Hultin sent Dr. Taubenberger’s lung tissue in four packages – two by Federal Express, one by UPS, and another by US Postal Service Express Mail. He doesn’t want any chance of tissue loss.

Dr. Taubenberger received all packages. The Brevig woman’s lung tissue was invaluable, he said, because without it, the soldiers’ lung samples had very little virus, so with the technology at the time, the effort was to get the virus sequence. completion will be delayed. at least a decade.

Using tissue that Dr. Hultin provided, Dr. Taubenberger’s team published a piece of paper provided the genetic sequence of an important gene, hemagglutinin, that the virus used to enter cells. The team then used that tissue to determine the complete sequence of all eight of the virus’ genes.

Johan Viking Hultin was born on October 7, 1924 into a wealthy family in Stockholm. His father, Viking Hultin, inherited an export business. When he was 10, his parents divorced and his mother, Eivor Jeansson Hultin, married Carl Naslund, a pathologist and virologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

He has two sisters; one died of sepsis at the age of 6 and the other died of a car accident at the age of 32. After graduating from high school, Johan went to Uppsala University to study medicine.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Gunvor Sande, while he was completing medical school. The couple divorced in 1973 and he married Eileen in 1985.

Along with his wife, Dr. Hultin is survived by his children Peder Hultin, Anita Hultin and Ellen Swensen; three step daughters, Christine Peck, Karen Hill and Deborah Kenealy; 12 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Before the results of the Brevig woman’s virus study were published, Dr. Hultin asked the villagers if they wanted the village to be identified in a bulletin and a journal article. They may be surrounded by media. “You probably won’t like it,” Dr. Hultin warned them.

The Brevig residents had come to a consensus: to publish the newspaper and identify the village. Dr. Hultin has been listed as a co-author.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/27/health/dr-johan-hultin-dead.html Dr. Johan Hultin died at the age of 97; His work helped isolate the 1918 flu virus

Fry Electronics Team

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