The Daily Flash: Eco, Space, Science (08/09)
New Genetic Motion of the Ocean Discovered

MIT Team Solves Mystery of 1918 Pandemic that Killed 50-100 Million Worldwide -A Galaxy Insight

1918_pandfemic MIT researchers have explained why two mutations in the H1N1 avian flu virus were critical for viral transmission in humans during the 1918 pandemic outbreak that killed at least 50 million people -believed more than that taken by the Black Death, and higher than the number killed in World War I.

The 1918 flu pandemic -commonly knownas the Spanish flu- was an influenza pandemic that started in the United States, appeared in West Africa and France and then spread to nearly every part of the globe in three waves lasting from March 1918 to June 1920, spreading to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. It was caused by an unusually severe and deadly Influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1. In contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or otherwise weakened patients, the Spanish Flue also claimed healthy young adults, resulting from infection rates of up to 50% and the extreme severity of the symptoms, suspected to be caused by cytokine storms.

The disease was first discovered at Fort Riley, Kansasand Queens, New York , in 1918. In August 1918, a more virulent strain appeared simultaneously in Brest, France, in West Africa at Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in the U.S. at Boston, Massachusetts. The Allies of World War I came to call it the Spanish Flu, primarily because the pandemic received greater press attention after it moved from France to Spain in November of 1918.

The MIT team showed that the 1918 influenza strain developed two mutations in a surface molecule called hemagglutinin (HA), which allowed it to bind tightly to receptors in the human upper respiratory tract.

"Two mutations dramatically change the HA binding affinity to receptors found in the human upper airways," said Ram Sasisekharan, MIT's Underwood Prescott Professor of Biological Engineering and Health Sciences and Technology.

In January, Sasisekharan and colleagues reported in Nature Biotechnology that flu viruses can only bind to human respiratory cells if they match the shape of sugar (or glycan) receptors found on those cells.

The glycan receptors found in the human respiratory tract are known as alpha 2-6 receptors, and they come in two shapes-one resembling an open umbrella, and another resembling a cone. To infect humans the MIT team found that avian flu viruses must gain the ability to bind to the umbrella-shaped alpha 2-6 receptor.

In the current study, the team discovered that two mutations in HA allow flu viruses to bind tightly or with high affinity to the umbrella-shaped glycan receptors.

"The affinity between the influenza virus HA and the glycan receptors appears to be a critical determinant for viral transmission," said Sasisekharan.

The researchers used the 1918 influenza virus as a model system to investigate the biochemical basis for hemagglutinin binding to glycans, which leads to viral transmission.

This new work could aid researchers in monitoring the HA mutations in the H5N1 avian flu strains currently circulating in Asia. These mutations could enable the virus to jump from birds to humans, as many epidemiologists fear will occur.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on the varying infectiousness of these strains last year, but the PNAS study is the first that explains the exact biochemical reason underlying these differences.

Posted by Casey Kazan. Adapted from an MIT news release.

Related Galaxy posts:

Don't miss the fascinating video,  The Ghost Map -the story of the great cholera outbreak that devastated London in the 1870's.

The Ghost Map

Hot Zone: Scientists Unlock Secret of 1918 "Spanish Flu" Pandemic
Pandemics from Outer Space Possible? Europe's Scientists Discuss The Future of Humans in Space

Deadly Companions: Animal-born Microbes Pose Threat of Global Pandemic


I was wondering what if any effect did it have on immigrants in those years. I seem to remember that the people were quarantined and given health exams. Some were sent home....... Perhaps a case of spreading the virus in reverse direction.

Good research...and article...they look in our past pandemic Flue ...the so called 'Hispanic flue'

Would this help in understanding better how to counter actual viruses...and flues ??

I was told by my father that the peak in Italy was in 1919-1920....with terible effects on the local population.

Hope that will never happen we do have enough problems now.


hayy hayy wow gud article fer whoever wrote it an ya alot uf imfo on heres

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)