Published April 29, 2009
Health , Medicine
Tags: Chile, Health, science, Swine Flu
First of all, thanks to the team and people of Nature Blogs for accept my blog in their list!
Second… Being a Grad Student, usually I have little time to dedicate to post something really interesting and good-quality content. Today, it’s one of these days (the workbench took all of my day… and now I am getting ready to sleep). But I wanted to recommend these links about the Swine Flu on Nature and Science.
First, an interview from ScienceInsider with Ruben Donis, chief of the molecular virology and vaccines branch at the CDC. I tried to investigate about the genetics of the virus, but it seems that I have to wait to see a paper in a Journal. Anyway, Donis talks in the interview about some interesting features of the virus, and about the history of the Swine Flu. Also check the special from Science here.
Second, the special from Nature is also interesting. By the way… this blogger lives in Chile. Sometimes, here we hear things like “we are so far from everything… we are isolated and safe”. But in the news I watched about the first confirmed case in Peru, next to us. Chile has been very efficient so far in the preparation for the disease and the checking of the tourists and travellers in the International Airport. By now, there are about 42 cases in our country; 16 of them have been ruled out; 26 are being studied, and several of them are people who travelled to Mexico or USA. I guess the meetings and courses around there will suffer by now.
I found some interesting information about the Swine Flu outbreak in Science Insider [1,2]. Two topics are really disturbing: one of them is related with a previous outbreak in 1976. It seems that a swine flu strain swept from a military base in New Jersey, and several soldiers were infected. But only one soldier died. You can read more about this story in .
The second topic is very perturbing. The news from ScienceInsider claims that in USA, none of the suspected diseased people have died; all of them had a mild disease. However, in Mexico, 80 deaths are attributed to the virus. One should ask: Why? If these numbers are correct, why in one country, there are no deaths from a virus, but in the next country, there are so many? In this case, one can propose that economical factors are influencing in the outcome of the treatment. But, there is such a difference between USA and Mexico? I could accept a difference maybe between England and Bolivia, for example.
Maybe another explanation can be even more deep. Ona explanation regarding something even more powerful than economics: Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs). There is no scientific fact to assume that two populations will have the same genetical background. And, indeed, some mutations are more prevalent in specific genes in specific populations. I have some knowledge about one specific gene: ATP7B. Mutations in this gene is related with the Wilson Disease, and more than 250 mutations have been reported. Strikingly, mutations are “country-specific”. Even between neighbor countries, the differences are surprising. A database with more than 300 mutations has been implemented. And this is only one example.
Being hard with this idea, I can imagine that the influence of genetic variations in the response to pathogens and drugs, for example, will be important when someone is analyzing two populations. And then, we have Genome-Wide association studies: the only available tool that we can use in a quick way to asses two population’s response to an infectious disease, in this case. Are we ready to develop and implement fast and global responses to global threats such as Swine Flu? Of note, a recent news in Science talks about a debate regarding the real value of genome-wide association studies, where some scientists are saying that these studies are not bringing valuable clinical information about diseases, and the trend seems to be the support to full-genome sequencing in patients. That approach could be very useful in the study of diseases such as cancer. But, when we are dealing with global outbreaks, as Swine Flu now, we need to handle all the information available. Including the properties in our genome that can influence the response of a country, or even the entire human kind, to a inminent threat.
References and links:
 Koenig, R. Science, 2009, April 24, Vol. 324, page 448.