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Scary virus revived by scientists

In 1918, a man died of a vicious strain of “Spanish Flu” and was buried in the Alaskan tundra. Almost a century later, scientists found his well preserved body poking through some permafrost and decided to take tissue samples to a Canadian laboratory to thaw out the virus that killed the man.

Sounds like the beginning of a made-for-TV, horror movie, doesn’t it? Well, I wish it were fiction. This is a true story.

So why did the scientists revive this infectious menace? To see what it would do to modern day macaque monkeys, of course.

The BBC news reports:

“Symptoms appeared within 24 hours of exposure to the virus, and the subsequent destruction of lung tissue was so widespread that, had the monkeys not been put to sleep a few days later, they would literally have drowned in their own blood.”

Um… gross?

The scientists say,

“This research provides an important piece in the puzzle of the 1918 virus, helping us to better understand influenza viruses and their potential to cause pandemics.”

The BBC continues:

“Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) revealed that a key component of the immune system, a gene called RIG-1 appeared to be involved.

Levels of the protein produced by the gene were lower in tissue infected with the 1918 virus, suggesting it had a method of switching it off, causing immune defenses to run wild. This ability to alter the body’s immune response is shared with the most recent candidate for mutation into a pandemic strain, the H5N1 avian flu.”

There is a final word from Dr. Jim Robertson, a British virologist:

“Many influenza virologists remain nervous about creating and experimenting with a reconstructed 1918 Spanish flu virus.”

Yeah, I’m nervous too.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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5 Responses to “Scary virus revived by scientists”

  1. Hashslingingslasher says:

    Wow….sounds like something they would play in at Fort Detrick.

    Val, I too “loved” your description of the parenchyma dissolving. Yuck! Even for an ole’ Respiratory Therapist like me! That’s a whole new level of “foulness”.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Although it seems potentially dangerous to bring the Spanish flu virus “back to life,” I’m hoping the benefits will outweigh the risks when it comes to finding a way to deal with a possible pandemic involving the avian flu or some other dangerous viral disease.

  3. food nut says:

    I heard about this on the news too. Was anyone else as disturbed as me about the way the monkeys were treated? I know medical experienments on animals happen all the time, but it makes me SO SAD that humans think we’re the only species that matters.

  4. kaykay says:

    You are right, sounds like a sci-fi picture(mum! wonder when we’ll see it?). Q??: does the virus withstand burning?. If the man had been creamated, would the virus still be active?

  5. ValJonesMD says:

    If the man had been creamated the virus would NOT have survived. So at least this little monster is killable. :)

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