The question of the origin of the canine virus Pandemrix is still relevant nearly 10 years after the epidemic was blamed for millions of deaths during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.
The origins of the H1N1 virus, officially known as swine flu, were first confirmed during the 2014-2015 flu season, when studies revealed that very young children who caught the virus after vaccination with a bird flu virus, known as H5N1, contained the same genetic markers that contained the H1N1 influenza virus, primarily the hemagglutinin, a part of the flu virus that grabs onto the surface of the respiratory cells.
After this discovery, it was recognized that it was possible that the H1N1 virus found in some children who caught flu in the winter was not actually flu. In other words, some were getting the same virus, but it was not the virus you think of when you think of the flu.
According to European scientists, the H1N1 virus in those flu-infected children might actually have originated in an animal, most likely from a strain of pigs and other animals that had killed the pupae of a grasshopper common in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, including the UK.
Some scientists had already been examining whether the very young children who died after getting flu from influenza were actually infected with influenza itself, which as a pandemic strain, is one of the reasons why Pandemrix was first marketed. It was originally developed as a seasonal influenza vaccine, but later was developed into a pandemic vaccine.
Unlike a seasonal influenza vaccine, which contains the molecule of the flu virus so that it copies itself after it has infected the host’s immune system, Pandemrix has a different chemical structure. It contains a different sequence of the hemagglutinin, the part of the virus that grabs onto the surface of the respiratory cells.
Scientists have tested dogs born with the H1N1 virus, genetically altered to look like the normal H1N1 virus, and determined they were completely free of viruses from Pandemrix. The disease caused by the pandemic pandemic viral strain in the dog population is known as avian influenza H1N1 virus.
Experts working in the area now have found that children whose lives were saved by the Pandemrix vaccine probably got infected with a strain of virus that originated in an animal’s feces, the equivalent of infecting a wild pig or swine.
It has been stated that some members of the European medicine regulatory authority, EMA, were removed in the wake of the controversy, and although they are back on the job, some drugs makers are skeptical about the investigations.
Many of the questions surrounding Pandemrix are also part of larger issues of different communities in Europe working to prevent a pandemic influenza outbreak, the topics of “alternative facts” and the evils of the medical profession.
Of course, H1N1 is no longer the reason for this pandemic pandemic. In fact, the large number of human infections last year might even have been lower than in previous flu seasons, because of a swine flu vaccine that is now the first of its kind in the world.
But it is still an important story to consider, especially with the possibility of another pandemic that might target humans.
While some people think that all pandemics were caused by a single cause, scientists still have more questions than answers to these diseases, and no human flu vaccine exists for these kinds of viruses.
This gives researchers the possibility to study these viruses and come up with better and more effective vaccines. It may seem that this is easy but hard to consider when you’re the one getting the virus.
Dr. Thom Coleman is the CEO of HSPH’s Infectious Diseases Program.