Study Links Pigs to Flu Pandemic

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Swine flu harbors many strains of conspiracy theories: Mexican drug lords, anti-immigration activists, crafty Republicans and greedy drug companies have all been cited by an imaginative public as causes for the pandemic.

Blame it on mystery pigs, though. And there's no bioterrorism involved.

British scientists used extensive computer-enhanced genetic analysis to confirm that the H1N1 virus was not engineered in a test tube and that the flu originated in undetermined swine lineage years ago.

We were able to reconstruct the origins and time scale of this new pandemic, said Oliver Pybus, a zoologist with Oxford University. Our results show that this strain has been circulating among pigs, possibly among multiple continents, for many years prior to its transmission to humans.

With a team of microbiologists from the University of Edinburgh, Mr. Pybus found wide gaps in genetic surveillance of the virus. The findings suggested that the unusual mix of genetic material in H1N1 - it also includes bird and human flu - occurred years ago, which led them to conclude that it was not created.

The multiple genetic ancestry of H1N1 is not indicative of an artificial origin, the study said.

While there appears not to be a conspiracy afoot, there is still some mystery associated with swine flu, which has surfaced in all 50 states, with close to 18,000 confirmed cases and 45 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We show that it was derived from several viruses circulating in swine, and that the initial transmission to humans occurred several months before recognition of the outbreak. …