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New strain of flu – should we be worried?

Posted in: General Health 02 Aug, 2012

According to reports, there might be a possibility of a new flu strain from seals that could be harmful to humans. The article in the Daily Mail talks about a new H3N8 flu strain that has already caused the death of 162 New England seals. It is thought that the virus could be transferable to humans, because it’s able to target a protein found in human lungs, which could leave a sufferer’s lungs vulnerable to pneumonia and other bacterial infections. But is there any need to worry yet?

This is strain is similar to that found in North American birds which has been in circulation since 2002, however it is more likely to attack humans because it has managed to mutate to adapt better to mammal bodily cells.

How does seal flu affect the body?

What scientists are apparently worried about is the ability of the virus to attack cytokines that are found in the human lung. Cytokins are protein molecules that perform a specific function during an immune reaction, performing a similar function to neurotransmitters, also known as hormones. Cytokins therefore carry messages between cells during an immune reaction, which means that if they are affected, lung tissue will be unable to protect itself against other infections, leaving those who are already vulnerable to illness in danger.

Creating unnecessary concern

This information is indeed concerning, but one has to wonder whether the headline that reads ‘Forget bird flu – seal flu could prove more deadly to humans’ is a little overdramatic. There are no confirmed cases of this influenza in humans, and it’s actually comforting to know that scientists are able to identify the fact that there is a risk of transference so soon, meaning that they will be able to develop potential defences sooner rather than later.

Is there a need to be worried?

The issue with bird flu was the fact that some birds that were susceptible to the virus migrate over vast distances during the course of a year and were more likely to come in contact with humans, whereas it’s unlikely that an average person would come in contact with a seal. It’s understandable that the potential mutations of flu viruses to adapt to a new species is a matter of concern to the scientific community, but for the average layman like you and me, there isn’t much that can be done at this point.

We are faced with many pathogens in our environment everyday and it would be very difficult to avoid becoming ill completely, but it’s good to know that these potentially dangerous infections are being detected early. However, as it would appear, there isn’t any need for immediate concern and even deadly strains of flu such as bird flu are currently under control and treatable.

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