New procedure developed: Predict the danger of new flu-causing agents
Every year there are repeated reports of bird flu outbreaks. So far, people have largely been spared in this country, but there is great fear of infection. Researchers have now developed a new method that can be used to assess whether animal influenza viruses pose a danger to humans.
Animal influenza viruses can be dangerous for humans
Bird flu outbreaks have occurred repeatedly in Germany in recent years. The consequence of this was that poultry had to be killed en masse. Animal influenza viruses cause great unrest in humans, asking questions such as: Can poultry meat still be eaten? Or how dangerous is bird flu really for humans? A new procedure developed by researchers at the Freiburg University Hospital is now helping to assess whether animal influenza viruses are dangerous to humans.
Avian flu in Germany
Influenza A viruses, which are transmitted from animals to humans, can cause waves of disease worldwide. For example, avian influenza viruses can cause severe flu if they affect humans.
They can also lead to devastating pandemics. The bird flu pathogen H5N8 is currently rampant in Germany. It is highly contagious for poultry. However, transmission of this virus subtype to humans has so far not been known.
Other viruses, such as H7N9, on the other hand, are demonstrably transferable to humans and can trigger typical bird flu symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat.
Predict risk of infection
For newly discovered virus types from birds it has so far been difficult to predict whether they will make humans sick and whether they can spread to the human population.
However, scientists at the Freiburg University Hospital have now been able to experimentally test the risk of such an infection, the clinic reports.
Human resistance gene against animal influenza viruses
For this purpose, the researchers equipped laboratory mice with a gene for the defense against influenza virus in humans. The resistance factor MxA is considered an essential component of the genetic virus defense in humans.
While normal mice without MxA are sensitive to many types of influenza A virus, mice with the human resistance gene were highly resistant to animal influenza viruses.
However, the animals were sensitive to those virus types that have been circulating in the human population for a long time.
Danger potential for the human population
The new animal model can therefore help to better estimate the hazard potential of new influenza viruses from the animal world for the human population.
"With our approach, we can quickly and safely determine whether newly discovered flu viruses pose a risk to humans," said Prof. Dr. Peter Stäheli, research group leader at the Institute of Virology at the University Hospital Freiburg.
“In the future, a corresponding test could significantly supplement the risk assessment based on virus genome analyzes that have been common up to now. As a result, the protective measures against an increased risk potential could be adapted in good time ”.
A summary of the study results can be found at "EurekAlert!". The study was published in the specialist journal "Journal of Experimental Medicine". (ad)