MEMPHIS, Tenn., October 9, 1997 -- A new influenza virus, first found in anow-deceased Hong Kong boy in May and against which the human immune system isdefenseless, passed directly and most unusually from poultry to the boy,reported Robert G. Webster, Ph.D., chairman of the St. Jude Children's ResearchHospital Department of Virology and Molecular Biology, and other scientists inan article published today by Nature.
"Typically, new influenza viruses pass through and are genetically modified inother mammals, like pigs, before reaching humans. A unique feature of this newvirus of the H5 subtype found in Hong Kong, which we call HK97, is that itmanaged to cross the avian-human species barrier without prior adaptation inanother mammalian species," said Dr. Webster.
Previously, only influenza viruses of the H1, H2 or currently circulating H3subtypes have been shown to cause influenza in humans. It is not known how theHong Kong boy was infected with the H5 virus. There was an avian flu epidemic amonth earlier.
"Fortunately, there are no indications that more infections with HK97 have takenplace in humans or that the virus has spread amongst humans, so HK97 does notseem to be a direct pandemic, or world epidemic, threat at present. However,its emergence illustrates the necessity for global influenza surveillance," saidDr. Webster.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, more than 460 bloodsamples were taken from people exposed to the boy and another 1,900 samples weretaken from people showing flu symptoms, with none revealing new cases of HK97.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta is developing a lab test fordetecting the new virus, and the CDC Advisory Committee on ImmunizationPractices is scheduled to discuss HK97 when it meets on October 22-23.
Note: Dr. Robert Webster will be available to answer questions from the media onOctober 8, 1997, 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm, CDT, via teleconference at 800.289.0730. The conference will be replayed for interested listeners beginning 5:30 pm, CDT,October 8, 1997, and continuing for one week until October 15, 1997, by calling888.566.0825.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tenn., was founded by thelate entertainer Danny Thomas. The hospital is an internationally recognizedbiomedical research center dedicated to finding cures for catastrophic diseasesof childhood. The hospital's work is primarily supported through funds raisedby the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC). All St. Judepatients are treated regardless of their ability to pay. ALSAC covers all costsof treatment beyond those reimbursed by third party insurers, and total costsfor families who have no insurance.
The above story is based on materials provided by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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