Influenza viruses cause annual epidemics and occasional pandemics that have claimed the lives of millions. The emergence of new strains will continue to pose challenges to public health and the scientific communities. The recent flu pandemic caused by a swine-origin influenza virus A/H1N1 (S-OIV) presents an opportunity to examine virulence factors, the spread of the infection and to prepare for major influenza outbreaks in the future. The virus contains a novel constellation of gene segments, the nearest known precursors being viruses found in swine and it probably arose through reassortment of two viruses of swine origin. Specific markers for virulence can be evaluated in the viral genome, PB1-F2 is a molecular marker of pathogenicity but is not present in the new S-OIV. While attention was focused on a threat of an avian influenza H5N1 pandemic emerging from Asia, a novel influenza virus of swine origin emerged in North America, and is now spreading worldwide. However, S-OIV demonstrates that even serotypes already encountered in past human pandemics may constitute new pandemic threats. There are concerns that this virus may mutate or reassort with existing influenza viruses giving rise to more transmissible or more pathogenic viruses. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic virus was relatively mild in its first wave and acquired more virulence when it returned in the winter. Thus preparedness on a global scale against a potential more virulent strain is highly recommended. Most isolates of the new S-OIVs are susceptible to neuraminidase inhibitors, and currently a vaccine against the pandemic strain is being manufactured and will be available this fall. This review summarizes the current information on the new pandemic swine-origin influenza virus A/H1N1.
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