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Understanding H5N1 and H7N9 avian influenza, H1N1 seasonal flu and flu shots

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With influenza of all sorts– H5N1, H1N1 and H7N9, dominating the media recently, I decided to delve in a little deeper and try to clear up some questions “people watching the news” may have when they hear these reports day after day.

Columbia University Microbiology and Immunology professor, Vincent Racaniello, PhD, joined me on the Jan. 18 airing of Outbreak News This Week Radio show to answer some questions on this wide ranging topic.

What is the “H”, what is the “N” in influenza descriptions? Dr. Racaniello discusses what Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA) are and what their function is.

To learn more about the “nuts and bolts” of the influenza virus, see Dr. Racaniello’s “Influenza 101″

Racaniello talked about H5N1 avian influenza symptomology and when asked, “What is this virus missing that keeps it from being implicated in person-to-person transmission?”, Racaniello said, “That’s the million dollar question.”

“As far as we know, only H1, H2 and H3 influenza viruses can transmit well person to person”.

Racaniello gives a lengthy story on a theory on why one seasonal flu strain predominates one year and not the next, definitely worth a listen.

How do health authorities figure out what flu strains to incorporate into the seasonal flu shot? Racaniello explains the process.

He also talks about the incredible and once thought impossible thing that happened recently in India–no polio cases in three years!

Visit Dr. Racaniello’s website, Virology Blog

For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page and the Outbreak News This Week Radio Show page.

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