CDC publicizes genetic sequences of bird flu viruses

(Aug 23, 2006) U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday released genetic blueprints of over 650 genes of influenza viruses, including avian influenza H5N1, into a database accessible to researchers worldwide.

The action marks "the beginning of a collaboration ... that will allow for greater access to data on a variety of influenza virus samples obtained from patients in the United States including avian influenza H5N1 if it should arrive here," the agency said in a statement.

The sequence information, which is like a DNA fingerprint of each virus, allows researchers to determine more about a virus' origin and to compare it to other influenza viruses.

It will help scientists determine whether the virus is susceptible to antiviral drugs and, in the case of avian influenza currently circulating in many parts of the world, to assess whether it's changing to make the virus more easily transmissible among people -- a key property the virus would need to acquire, to spark a pandemic.

In addition, the sequence information could be used to better identify the strains that should be included in the annual flu vaccine, CDC said,adding that it expected to provide genetic information for several hundred influenza viruses every year to encourage more research on influenza.

"With more information, the world's influenza experts can advance our understanding of the viruses circulating, potentially create new prevention strategies and treatments, and ultimately help us better protect the health of people around the world," said Nancy Cox, director of the CDC's Influenza Division.

"We hope these initiatives will set the stage for other countries to adopt similar approaches to the release of influenza virus sequence data that they manage," Cox said.

The sequence data will be available in nearly real time through Genbank, a public-access internet library for virus sequences managed by U.S. National Institutes of Health, and through an influenza database, housed at the Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Previously, the influenza sequences were available to a small number of influenza researchers, who worked together with the World Health Organization to recommend which influenza viruses should be included in influenza vaccines around the world. (from Xinhua)


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