Blog Post Image: Mystery of 1918 Pandemic Flu Virus Solved by UA Researchers

A false-color image of influenza virus as seen through an electron microscope. The virus’ genetic material (purple) is encased in a shell with surface proteins (red) used to infect a host cell. (Photo credit: U.S. Centers for Disease Control Public Library)

Dr. Erskine. L. Palmer; Dr. M. L. Martin

This negative-stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicts the ultrastructural details of an influenza virus particle, or “virion”. A member of the taxonomic family Orthomyxoviridae, the influenza virus is a single-stranded RNA organism

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent this illness is by getting a flu vaccination each fall.

Every year in the United States, on average:

– 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu

– more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and

– about 36,000 people die from flu. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. See PHIL 8430 for a black and white version of this image.

Influenza A and B are the two types of influenza viruses that cause epidemic human disease. Influenza A viruses are further categorized into subtypes on the basis of two surface antigens: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase. Influenza B viruses are not categorized into subtypes. Since 1977, influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses have been in global circulation. In 2001, influenza A (H1N2) viruses that probably emerged after genetic reassortment between human A (H3N2) and A (H1N1) viruses began circulating widely. Both influenza A and B viruses are further separated into groups on the basis of antigenic characteristics. New influenza virus variants result from frequent antigenic change (i.e., antigenic drift) resulting from point mutations that occur during viral replication. Influenza B viruses undergo antigenic drift less rapidly than influenza A viruses.

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