1918 killer flu secrets revealed Scientists have worked out how the virus which caused the world's worst ever flu epidemic infected man. They believe the virus, which claimed the lives of 50m people around the world, jumped from birds to humans. The breakthrough, published in Science, should help doctors identify which future bird viruses pose a threat to man at an earlier stage. But the National Institute for Medical Research team warns viruses cannot be stopped from crossing between species. They also say their work is unlikely to aid the current fight against avian flu in the Far East as knowing the structure of a virus is not enough to block its progress. The key first stage of infection is for the flu virus to attach itself to the cells in which it will breed. It does this by using spike-like molecules called Hemagglutinins (HA) that bind to particular receptors on the surface of cells in the body. Human and bird virus HAs interact with different cell receptors and therefore bird viruses do not usually infect humans. However, the NIMR team has studied the HA of the 1918 virus in close detail, and found that only minor changes in its structure were required for it to start to bind with human cells as well as bird cells. This gave it the ability to pass from birds to humans, and then between humans - with devastating results. Read the rest at BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3455873.stm Comment: From "The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present" by Roy Porter, p.18 of the Hard Cover Edition, we read:- "The agricultural revolution ensured human domination of planet earth: the wilderness was made fertile, the forests became fields, wild beasts were tamed or kept at bay; but pressure on resources presaged the disequilibrium between production and reproduction that provoked later Malthusian crises, as well as leading to ecological deterioration. As hunters and gatherers became shepherds and farmers, the seeds of disease were sown. Prolific pathogens once exclusive to animals were transferred to swineherds and goatherds, ploughmen and horsemen, initiating the ceaseless evolutionary adaptations which have led to a current situation in which humans share no fewer than sixty-five micro-organic diseases with dogs (supposedly man's best friend), and only slightly fewer with cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and poultry. Many of the worst human diseases were created by proximity to animals. Cattle provided the pathogen pool with tuberculosis and viral poxes like smallpox. Pigs and ducks gave humans their influenzas, while horses brought rhinoviruses and hence the common cold. Measles, which still kills a million children a year, is the result of rinderpest (canine distemper) jumping between dogs or cattle and humans. Moreover, cats, dogs, ducks, hens, mice, rats and reptiles carry bacteria like Salmonella, leading to often fatal human infections; water polluted with animal faeces also spreads polio, cholera, typhoid, viral hepatitis, whooping cough and diphtheria." Settlement helped diseases to settle in, attracting disease-spreading insects, while worms took up residence within the human body. Parasitologists and palaeopathologists have shown how the parasitic round-worm Ascaris, a nematode growing to over a foot long, evolved in humans, probably from pig ascarids, producing diarrhoea and malnutrition. Other helminths or wormlike fellow-travellers became common in the human gut, including the Enterobius (pinworm or threadworm), the yards-long hookworm, and the filarial worms which cause elephantiasis and African river blindness. Diseases also established themselves where agriculture depended upon irrigation - in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and around the Yellow (Huang) River in China. Paddyfields harbour parasites able to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream of barefoot workers, including the forked-tailed blood fluke Schistosoma which utilizes aquatic snails as a host and causes bilharz ia or schistoso-miasis (graphically known as 'big belly'), provoking mental and physical deterioration through the chronic irritation caused by the worm. Investigation of Egyptian mummies has revealed calcified eggs in liver and kidney tissues, proving the presence of schistosomiasis in ancient Egypt. (Mummies tell us much more about the diseases from which Egyptians suffered; these included gallstones, bladder and kidney stones, mastoid-itis and numerous eye diseases, and many skeletons show evidence of rheumatoid arthritis.) In short, permanent settlement afforded golden opportunities for insects, vermin and parasites, while food stored in granaries became infested with insects, bacteria, fungoid toxins and rodent excrement. The scales of health tipped unfavourably, with infections worsening and human vitality declining.* Moreover, though agriculture enabled more mouths to be fed, it meant undue reliance on starchy cereal monocultures like maize, high in calories but low in proteins, vitamins and minerals; reduced nutritional levels allowed deficiency diseases like pellagra, marasmus, kwashi-orkor and scurvy to make their entry onto the human stage. Stunted people are more vulnerable to infections, and it is a striking comment on 'progress' that neolithic skeletons are typically some inches shorter than their palaeolithic precursors. * Smallpox, the largest of all viruses, is the product of a long evolutionary adaptation of cowpox to humans - something clearly perceived two hundred years ago by Edward Jenner. His An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects ... of the Cow Pox (1798) noted that: The deviation of man from the state in which he was originally placed by nature seems to have proved to him a prolific source of diseases. From the love of splendour, from the indulgence of luxury, and from his fondness for amusement he has familiarized himself with a great number of animals, which may not originally have been intended for his associates. Jenner thus perceived the dangers animals posed to human health. Now, in the late 1990s, the transmission chain between the cattle disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), is a hot epidemiological and political issue in Europe. Posted by Robert Karl Stonjek.