Science Blows Way to Stop the Spread of Flu from Within

Healthcare providers are seeking ways to prevent the spread of viruses within themselves, thanks to a new discovery by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). The discovery could mark a significant step toward preventing the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic that left 83 people dead. By understanding how viruses migrate from one part of the human population to another, UTHealth scientists could potentially help combat future flu pandemics, said Jacob Grigg, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the study’s principal investigator.

A report on the publication appeared today in the journal Cell Reports.

For the study, the scientists were able to use a mouse model where one of two viruses was able to spread within a single mouse at a speed that rivaled strains without the virus’s presence. The strain before time of the pandemic was a strain that did not invade its host. To ensure the transfer proteins were effective on their intended target, a drug that blocks the transferring proteins was administered to the mice.

The results from the vaccinated mice on the control mice were as expected: 11 of 12 mice of both strains of the virus survived to reach viability, indicating a 40 percent survival rate. “We saw in the vaccinated mice that the virus was transferred much more effectively to warm-blooded animals, which favored the animals’ warm blood, which is a hallmark of healthy blood circulation, ” said Grigg.

Data collected from Himalayan bats ensured the work details were accurate: 8 of 9 bat species survived through winter, 4 survived into the summer and 2 survived into the autumn. In all animals studied, the only knockdown was in the seasonally exposed control animals.

It’s important to note that the strategy used was not entirely new. “This is the approach all virus transmissions are based upon, but the work highlights the relative ease of detecting subtypes of the virus in the population by vaccinating animals in time of influenza, ” said GRIGGS.