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New understanding for how flu viruses spread

By Tim Sandle     Sep 27, 2015 in Science
There are several ideas as to why flu spreads easier with some people than others. In an unexpected twist, researchers have found that a soft palate is an important site for shaping of airborne transmissibility.
The finding came about while scientists were looking into the virulence of the H1N1 influenza strain. Back in 2009 a pandemic associated with this virus killed over 250,000 people worldwide. Symptoms of such a viral disease include fever and extreme coldness, coughing, nasal congestion and body aches.
H1N1 is a subtype of influenza A virus. It was originally called “swine flu” because the virus was similar to those found in pigs. Nowadays, the H1N1 virus is a seasonal flu virus found in humans as well as animals.
In terms of how a virus of this type spreads between people, scientists have discovered that the soft palate (the soft tissue at the back of the roof of the mouth) plays an important role in viruses' ability to travel through the air from one person to another.
The reason comes down to specific viruses and the ability to bind to different tissues. The 2009 strain of H1N1 contains four mutations (located on the virus coat hemagglutinin protein.) The mutations make it better suited to bind on receptors found in abundance on the palate.
These assumptions were proven by testing on ferrets. The findings provide useful information about how the flu virus evolves and how readily it becomes transmissible through the air.
The research was undertaken at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the findings are published in Nature. The paper is titled “The soft palate is an important site of adaptation for transmissible influenza viruses.”
In related news, the city of Vadodara in India is currently suffering with a H1N1 outbreak. 16 cases of swine flu have been detected since August and there have been two deaths.
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