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Flu May Migrate Rather Than Die Out

Findings may lead to regional, rather than global, vaccines, researchers say

THURSDAY, May 27, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- When flu season dies out in the United States each spring, some strains of influenza actually migrate, spending the summer in South America and perhaps traveling even farther away, a new study suggests.

"The prevailing view that has developed over the past three years or so is the out-of-tropics hypothesis, in which the strains that bring about each temperate flu season originate from China and Southeast Asia, where influenza A is less seasonal," study leader and University of Michigan postdoctoral fellow Trevor Bedford said in a news release.

Bedford and colleagues analyzed genetic sequences of a strain of influenza that hit patients between 1998 and 2009. The researchers discovered some strains of flu seem to move on to more hospitable places instead of dying off when flu season ends.

The findings could help researchers design vaccines to target influenza in specific areas, Bedford said. "We found, for instance, that South America gets almost all of its flu from North America. This would suggest that rather than giving South America the same vaccine that the rest of the world gets, you could construct a vaccine preferentially from the strains that were circulating in North America the previous season. As we gather more data from other regions, this could be done for the entire world."

Also, he said, "by doing this kind of research, we get a clearer idea of where in the world flu is actually coming from. We know that it's mostly Southeast Asia, but now we see that it can come out of temperate regions as well, so our surveillance needs to become more global."

The study was published May 27 in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

More information

For more about influenza, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, press release, May 27, 2010
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