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Posts Tagged ‘contagion’

If it’s swine flu, why do people get it?

Illustration of avian flu on a human cell.

The event we hope never happens: a human cell (lower right) becomes infected with both an avian influenza virus (purple core, upper right) and a human influenza virus (orange core, upper center). Inside the cell, the viruses can mingle, producing new viral particles (purple and orange core, upper left) capable of spreading easily from person to person and as deadly as the original avian strain. Illustration from Russell Kightley Media.

With swine flu so much in the news these days, it’s a good time to look back at a story Washington State Magazine ran in August of 2007 (“Contagion! Emerging diseases: Unraveling the mystery“). Washington State University has one of the best teams of researchers in the world devoted to the study of diseases that can pass from their usual animal hosts to humans, such as Salmonella and E. coli. Our story delved into what changes a  virus or bacterium has to go through before it can infect people, why pigs are so often a way station for “bugs” that eventually infect people, why these diseases seem to occur in bursts, and why some outbreaks become full-blown epidemics.