Swine flu may have descended from the 1918 pandemic


The seasonal human flu virus called H1N1 — or swine flu — may have descended from the 1918 Spanish flu, new research suggests.

The findings are based on analysis of samples collected in Europe during the 1918 pandemic, which was the deadliest respiratory pandemic of the 20th century, killing between 50 and 100 million people.

An international research team from the Robert Koch Institute and Charite Berlin, both in Germany, and the University of Leuven in Belgium, revealed more details on the biology of the H1N1 flu virus. The team discovered mutations in the virus’ composition that may have helped it better adapt to human hosts. They also found evidence of the virus spreading between continents.

dr Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer and colleagues analyzed 13 lung samples from different individuals preserved in museum archives in Germany and Austria and collected between 1901 and 1931. Among them were six samples collected in 1918 and 1919.

The authors suggest that genetic differences between samples are consistent with a combination of local transmission and long-distance dispersal events.

They compared genomes from before and after the peak of the pandemic, suggesting there is a variation in a particular gene linked to resistance to antiviral responses that may have allowed the virus to adapt to humans.

The authors also performed molecular clock models that allow evolutionary timescales to be estimated, and propose that all genomic segments of seasonal H1N1 influenza may have descended directly from the original 1918 pandemic strain.

dr Calvignac-Spencer said: “Our results show that there was genomic variation throughout this pandemic. We see a clear signal for frequent transcontinental spread.

“We also show that there is no evidence of line exchange between the waves – as we see today with Sars-CoV-2 variants replacing each other.

“Another thing we uncovered with the sequences and new statistical models is that the subsequent seasonal influenza virus that continued to circulate after the pandemic may have evolved entirely from the pandemic virus directly.”

The results are published in nature communication. Swine flu may have descended from the 1918 pandemic

Fry Electronics Team

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