Here are some virology links to feed your brain this week:
Influenza viruses are a common winter scourge. As the air turns cold and we spend more time indoors with other people, flu spreads easily throughout the human population. Like many virus infections, your immune system finally wins the battle and protects you from getting infected a second time. The problem with this is that the flu comes in many flavours. New mutant flu strains that our immune systems cannot recognise begin to successfully infect people, and by the time winter reappears next year, the flu season strikes again. If your job is to develop the flu vaccine, this is a nightmare. Every year the virus is different, and so every year the vaccine must be too. Making the problem worse, producing enough flu vaccine doses for the global population takes most of the year. The result? The strains of flu targeted by each year’s flu vaccine must be decided around the same time as the previous flu season is just ending. This article takes a frank look at how this year’s predictions haven’t lined up with the major flu strain (H3N2) striking this season, and explores how difficult getting the predictions correct can be. Despite our struggle to combat the flu, there is no doubt that the flu vaccine saves lives every year. Getting an annual flu shot is the right way to protect both yourself and your loved ones from this nasty virus.
I missed this episode the first time round, but it came up in a review of 2014 podcast from the TWiV crew. In this podcast (2hrs 19min) from March last year, TWiV met up with Eugene Koonin at the National Center for Biotechnology Information to discuss his work with comparative genomics, the role of viruses in the evolution of all life and what we can understand from virus diversity. It’s fantastic big-picture evolution, and I’ll do no more than tell you that Eugene Koonin and this episode are fascinating to listen to. If video is your jam, you can also find the podcast over at Youtube.
Alongside the medical teams that directly treat the sick, scientific support is critical when controlling outbreaks of infectious disease. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is no different. During November and December last year, Professor Ian Goodfellow from the Division of Virology at the University of Cambridge volunteered to help establish and work in an Ebola diagnosis lab in Makeni, Sierra Leone. In this article, Ian describes his average day working in Makeni and what it’s like to set up a molecular biology lab in difficult conditions. This article explains what the lab was set up to do and also provides an insight on what it’s like to actually work there. Labs like these are drastically decreasing the time taken to diagnose a patient with Ebola: a factor that speeds up isolation and treatment, ultimately containing the spread of the disease in the community and saving lives.