Skip to comments.Past may hold clue to future flu fight Secrets may be in blood of 1918 survivors
Posted on 10/05/2006 6:52:51 PM PDT by Coleus
People who lived during the 1918 influenza epidemic may hold secrets in their blood that could help fight a future pandemic, but finding them now is a race against time. People who were toddlers at the end of World War I -- when the epidemic swept the globe and killed 50 million -- are in their 90s now. Nearly a lifetime after the notorious outbreak, researchers are hoping those who lived through it will come forward and donate a vial of blood, which then will be analyzed for antibodies to the virus.
In particular, a New Jersey researcher is seeking those who had siblings or other close relatives who were infected or who died of influenza in 1918. "If we can examine their blood and antibodies, maybe we can solve the great mystery of this virus," said Eric Altschuler, a researcher at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. "Why was it so much more lethal than all other flu?"
Altschuler said antibodies and other cells created by the immune systems of people who survived the 1918 virus could, possibly, be used to create treatments if a similar virus again circles the globe, especially a bird flu. Altschuler will work with immunologists at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Other researchers said scientists must collect the blood of influenza survivors before they are all gone.
"We can see how these antibodies responded to the virus and why these people survived," said Thomas Rowe, who studies emerging pathogens at Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, Ala. "This virus killed so many people and spread so rapidly that maybe we will be able to uncover something about the virus that we didn't know," he said.
(Excerpt) Read more at nj.com ...
My grandmother was 8 years old at the time of this epidemic. She is alive today. Maybe she's passed along some sort of immunity to "killer" flu bugs. I can only hope. She has lived an incredible life!!
Interesting idea, vaccines produced by researching natural immunities.
It is often said that the survivors of the Black Plague perhaps have some immunities to HIV..aka High Five.
My grandmother was 36 when she died of the flu in 1918. My grandfather got sick but survived. I wonder if DNA on survivors off spring would be useful. I am ignorant of these things.
That didn't pan out.
My mother was a child when the epidemic struck. She was forced to start school a year late because all of the schools were closed the year she would normally have gone into first grade.
There are fragments of the 1918 virus around, but apparently not the whole virus.
"... gene fragments of the 1918 flu virus extracted from preserved tissue of two soldiers who died of it and from an Inuit woman who also died from the flu and was buried in the Alaskan permafrost."
I had one old great aunt, who survived this flu...tho her husband and very young child died because of it...my aunt tho, went on to live to be 102 years old...she died a number of years ago...
I saw a PBS program several years ago about the so called Spanish Flu.
I was truly amazing to me to learn how bad it really was. You would see a healthy looking neighbor pass you by on the street one day and a just a day or two later find youd learn he was dead.
Philadelphia was one American city particularly hard hit. There were not enough coffins or mortuaries to keep up with the demand. Dead bodies lied in their homes for days and days.
And the epidemic may have even ended WWI earlier than the hostilities might have. Ive read that more soldiers actually succumb to the flu or its complications than actually died as a result of enemy fire.
But for some strange reason, perhaps the culture at the time, there seemed to be a national if not world wide amnesia about what happened people at the time did not want to talk about it later and thus later generations didnt learn how bad it really was.
This flu, unlike most others since, took the young adults and healthiest among the population and just why is still a mystery that haunts scientists even today. So hopefully this research can help. I think we are complacent to think, even with our medical advances, that something like this cant happen today.
Think about our big cities and the large number of working poor and immigrant populations who might not seek medical attention until its too late added to the speed of international travel. Yes weve had some false alarms and things blown out of proportion but I do think that a potential killer lies in wait.
Like Hurricane Katrina, its not a matter of if but when. The good news is we are hopefully better prepared to contain the eventual pandemic now more than ever before.
The results of a study on the 1918 Influenza Virus were released earlier this week. I will try to summarize as best I can since this has long been an interest of mine.
Mice were infected by innoculation into their nasal passages with one of four virus strains:
1. A common Texas A influenza virus from 1991.
2. Two of the RNA genes of the 1918 virus.
3. Five of the RNA genes of the 1918 virus.
4. All eight of the RNA genes of the 1918 virus.
The mice were culled on days 1, 2, and 5 and the lung tissue was extracted and treated to inactivate the virus. The lung tissue was then examined.
The lung tissue from groups 1-3 showed a normal immune response that would not have been fatal. The lung tissue from group 4 that was infected with the complete virus showed an uncontrolled immune response that destroyed the host tissue.
All testing was performed in a Biohazard Level 3 laboratory at the CDC.
It is now hypothesized that the virulence of this virus is due to synergistic activity by the combination of the 8 RNA genes which cause an overwhelming immune response that destroys the host tissues. In other words, the body destroys its own tissue in response to this infection.
If you would like to read THE authoritative text on the subject of the 1918 Pandemic and the quest to track down the organism responsible it is FLU by Gina Kolata.
Whole virus was recovered from the lung tissue of an Alaskan Inupiat woman who died in the Pandemic in Lutheran Mission (now Brevig Mission) in NW Alaska. A retired pathologist from the Bay area of CA went there in the 1990's and got permission from the village elders to excavate the mass grave. The specimens were retrieved from the lung tissue of the woman who was buried at the bottom of the grave and had been frozen for over 80 years. These frozen specimens ewere preserved and sent to Jeffrey Taubenberger, M.D. at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda, MD where the genome was mapped.
Ongoing research is occuring at the AFIP, the University of Washington in Seattle, and the CDC in Atlanta.
Those of you familiar with Alaska probably are unaware that the village of Eklutna just north of Anchorage west of the Glenn Highway was founded in 1920 as an orphanage for Native children who lost their families in the Great Pandemic.
May Godspeed be with these researchers to help us learn to cope with the inevitable next influenza pandemic.
My great-grandparents lost three daughters--all under 6--in a week to that horrible flu. My g-grandmother refused to have any more kids. My g-grandpa liked to "play the horses," so he bargained with g-gma that he'd quit gambling if she'd have another child. She had the child (grandpa), but he didn't quit gambling.
Yes, I do believe that you are correct...my great grandmother lived in a small town in New Jersey, right next to a very old cemetary...when we were kids, my mom would take us through the cemetery, and we would always notice the cluster of headstones, all members in one family, and everyone died around the same time...we figured it was some sort of epidemic going around, whether flu or scarlet fever...
On the other hand, my older boy is buried in a very small cemetary, next to his favorite uncle...now his favorite uncle is buried just in front of a mass of graves of his relatives who all appear to have died in one year or the year after it, and there are about 4-5 children, and a couple of adults...I think the year on the gravestones is 1938, and 1939...one would think it was some sort of illness..
But its not...because I know what happened...the family was coming back from an evening out on New Years Eve, and they were returning home, along some country roads in Northern California...they were hit head on by a drunk driver...some of them died at the scene, so they died in 1938...a few of the others, taken to the hospital, died a few hours after midnight, and since it was New Years Eve, going into New Years Day, it was a different year altogether...
But you are certainly right about old cemetaries, one can find interesting histories, just from the clustering of gravestones...
There was an aunt of mine who died of this flu. Her cause of death is listed as consumption..which was, as I understand from listening to my surviving aunts and uncles, was that she died by virtually drowning in her own phlem. The rest actually had that flu and made it through just fine and two aunts later became nurses. I remember them talking of the awful task it was helping their mother who was trying to hold their sister so that she could try and cough all that crap up. They also said that she was nearly pure blue in color from lack of air. There was no antibiodics in those days and both these aunts said that if they'd had any that it would have helped and she would have made it. Both these fine Ol Ladys took care of many a boy who came back from WW2 with infections and watched as the miracle of penicillin healed those boys. No way would they have believed that antibiodics would become a problem these days because of its overuse in medicine.
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