Neuron Culture

Nature’s Declan Butler looks at how baffled virologists are as they examine this virus’s DNA:

Researchers are scrambling to study the evolution and spread of the novel H1N1 strain of swine influenza whose leap to humans was officially confirmed last week….

The genetic make-up of this swine flu virus is unlike any that researchers have seen. It is an H1N1 strain that combines a triple assortment first identified in 1998 — including human, swine and avian influenza — with two new pig H3N2 virus genes from Eurasia, themselves of recent human origin.

“It has been mixing all over the place, and so the genetics are quite complicated,” says John McCauley, a virologist at the UK Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research in London. “Where the hell it got all these genes from we don’t know,” says Robert Webster, a flu virologist at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. “But this is a real super-mixed-up virus.”

But is everyone getting the same virus? Part of me wants to believe that it’s not spreading as fast as it seems because some of the apparent spread is some other, milder virus. But Butler reminds us that the fast spread through the school in New York, where 28 kids have been cconfirmed to have the same virus that has run through Mexico (though none of the NY students terribly sick), argues against that optimistic take. At the same time,

And the very new genetics of this virus, which the closer look at the virus seems to be confirming, is what makes it unlikely that we have much immunity.

Still,

For the moment the pathogenicity and mortality range is wide and uncertain, says McCauley — “anything between the lethal 1918 and the mild 1968 pandemic”. The high transmission rates in areas such as New York are worrying, says Mark Lipsitch, an epidemiologist of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. But a better idea should be forthcoming as testing ramps up, and health authorities get a clearer picture of the ratio of deaths to those infected.

See also Nature’s swine flu page — worth your A list, if you’re assembling.

Other blips on my own radar:

ScienceInsider sieves the many maps of the apparent swine flu outbreak and decides it likes this one best.

Add the Flu Wiki as a good spot to obsessively track news, which of course is less sensible than watching the Big Picture (or buying rice and beans). Interesting bits from there this morn: Fort Worth, Texas, has closed all its schools for the time being. New HHS Secretary Sibelius and other health officials are going to hold a webcast today at 1:00 pm EDT, to which citizens can submit quesitons by email beforehand.

And another A list addition, Aetiology, where Tara C is being mightily distracted from her dissertation.