New Flu Strain, Seal Flu, Identified in New England

A ne flu strain has been uncovered in seals in New England, and the virus may pose a threat to humans and animals alike, a new report warns.

The new flu strain findings came from autopsies of five seals found off the coasts of New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. The seal flu deaths, from a strain known as H3N8, were among 162 seal deaths that year in the region, believed to be linked to the new flu strain.

Dr. Bruce Hirsch is attending physician in infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY, and he commented on the threat posed by a new flu strain, saying seal flu could pair up with another virus to become transmissible to humans:

“Each time the flu virus infects a cell, it is a roll of the dice,. There are eight separate segments of genes inside the virus — simple viral versions of chromosomes — which recombine at random, producing unique viruses. Cells can be infected with multiple viruses, so a dangerous gene from a bird can get mixed in with a gene that makes it easy to infect humans.”

Monk Seal

Dr. Anne Moscona is a professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, and she explains that the new flu strain has not yet been identified in humans — and that the situation is cause for heed to be paid:

“There is a concern that we have a new mammalian-transmissible virus to which humans haven’t been exposed yet. It’s a combination we haven’t seen in disease before.”

The report cam out in the journal mBio, in the July 31st online edition.