August 2nd, 2012
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H3 N8 has been around for some time in birds, dogs and horses and has posed no threats to humans. Now, however, that may be set to change.Scientists trying to discover what has caused the death of 162 ¬†harbour seals along the New England coast over the last year have found that they died of pneumonia, caused by a mutated strain of flu virus H3N8.
Professor Ian Lipkin of Columbia University is a renowned virus hunter who helped identify both SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and West Nile Virus. He is both surprised and somewhat alarmed by what her refers to as “a new jump” made by the virus.
There have been mutations in the virus that have enabled it to cause disease and death in the seal population in New England. It is able to bind to the mammalian flu receptors in the seals. Unlike dogs and horses seals carries both avian and mammalian flu receptors, as do pigs. This allows viruses to mutate and evolve in ways that allow it to cause far more severe symptoms in mammals and in ways far more likely to cause serious disease in humans as it has the ability to bind to a protein found in the respiratory tract. It is usually pigs who are the intermediate host in passing avian viruses to humans, it seems seals are even more effective at breeding flu viruses.