Influenza dangerous because of mutations

Feb. 26, 2010 at 11:46 PM
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DALLAS, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Influenza can be potentially dangerous because it is not very good at making copies of itself, which leads to mutations, a U.S. pathologist says.

Dr. Richard Scheuermann, professor of pathology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said even though most mutations don't amount to anything, some can lead to new versions -- or strains -- of the flu that could spread more easily or make people sicker once infected.

Scheuermann, who is also principal investigator of the National Institutes of Health-funded Influenza Research Database, says a virus' ability to mutate partly explains why the seasonal flu vaccine is ineffective against the H1N1 strain.

"H1N1 is very different from the normal seasonal flu, especially in parts of the virus normally recognized by our protective immune system," Scheuermann said in a statement.

Most human flu viruses have 11 genes at most, compared with the more than 20,000 genes found in humans, Scheuermann said.

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