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Published:May 1st, 2009 20:16 EST
New Strain Differs Genetically to 1918 Pandemic Virus

New Strain Differs Genetically to 1918 Pandemic Virus

By Christopher HIllenbrand

In a statement made public on Friday, medical experts in the U.S. report that the latest H1N1 Type A influenza strain differs genetically from the 1918 flu strain, which officials believe may make the new virus less deadly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underlined the unique feature of the virus regarded as "very unusual" with a genetic makeup consisting of avian, pig, and human elements previously found in preexisting flus in North America, Asia, and Europe.

Head of the influenza program for the CDC, Dr. Nancy Cox voiced optimism, saying "we do not see the markers for virulence that were seen in the 1918 virus." The latest H1N1 influenza strain also lacks the characteristics that the SARS avian flu and other recent flu outbreaks possessed making those strains all the more contagious and lethal.

Given the outdated methods of disease sampling in the last dangerous outbreaks in the past, she said: "However we know that there is a great deal that we do not understand about the virulence of the 1918 virus or other influenza viruses. So we are continuing to learn."

A leading CDC pathological expert revealed that early studies of those infected in the U.S. concluded that about 25 percent of family members living in close quarters with an infected relative, contracted the disease. The statistics of the seasonal flu`s infectious rate register between 5 and 20 percent of those in contact with someone suffering from the flu will catch the illness, based on the circumstances.

Dr. Anne Schuchat also said that full-fledged pandemics infect as many as 35 percent of people in similar situations.

She acknowledged the organization has compiled a genome for the new virus, made readily available for the public on the CDC`s Internet databases.

On that note, Dr. Cox said: " A lot of researchers around the world can begin to look at those gene sequences as well, in case they see something we haven`t already seen."

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was the most lethal outbreak in recorded history, and perhaps all time. That strain was also a H1N1 subtype, drastically different from the current H1N1 strain, and affected mostly young adults. Though the numbers weren`t entirely tabulated, the Spanish flu supposedly killed approximately 40 to 50 million people around the world, though contemporary estimates put that number at 50 to 100 million dead. About 500,000 to 675,000 died in the United States alone in the 1918 pandemic.