- Immune System
New Hong Kong Flu
Highly Unusual Infection Direct from
Poultry, Bypassing Other Mammals
MEMPHIS, Tenn., October 9, 1997 -- A new influenza virus, first found in a now-deceased
Hong Kong boy in May and against which the human immune system is defenseless,
passed directly and most unusually from poultry to the boy, reported Robert
G. Webster, Ph.D., chairman of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Department of Virology and Molecular Biology, and other scientists in an
article published today by Nature.
- "Typically, new influenza viruses
pass through and are genetically modified in other mammals, like pigs,
before reaching humans. A unique feature of this new virus of the H5 subtype
found in Hong Kong, which we call HK97, is that it managed to cross the
avian-human species barrier without prior adaptation in another mammalian
species," said Dr. Webster.
- Previously, only influenza viruses of
the H1, H2 or currently circulating H3 subtypes havebeen shown to cause
influenza in humans. It is not known how the HongKong boy was infected
with the H5 virus. There was an avian flu epidemic a month earlier.
- "Fortunately, there are no indications
that more infections with HK97 have taken place in humans or that the virus
has spread amongst humans, so HK97 does not seem to be a direct pandemic,
or world epidemic, threat at present. However, its emergence illustrates
the necessity for global influenza surveillance," said Dr. Webster.
- According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture
report, more than 460 blood samples were taken from people exposed to the
boy and another 1,900 samples were taken from people showing flu symptoms,
with none revealing new cases of HK97.
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC)
in Atlanta is developing a lab test for detecting the new virus, and the
CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to discuss
HK97 when it meets on October 22-23.
- Note: Dr. Robert Webster will be available
to answer questions from the media on October 8, 1997, 2:30 pm to 3:30
pm, CDT, via teleconference at 800.289.0730. The conference will be replayed
for interested listeners beginning 5:30 pm, CDT, October 8, 1997, and continuing
for one week until October 15, 1997, by calling 888.566.0825.
- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital,
in Memphis, Tenn., was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas. The
hospital is an internationally recognized biomedical research center dedicated
to finding cures for catastrophic diseases of childhood. The hospital's
work is primarily supported through funds raised by the American Lebanese
Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC). All St. Jude patients are treated
regardless of their ability to pay. ALSAC covers all costs of treatment
beyond those reimbursed by third party insurers, and total costs for families
who have no insurance.