Researchers have warned that a new virus found in seals could pose a new threat to human health. The H3N8 strain was discovered in US harbor seals has potential to pass to other mammals including human beings. Post-mortem examinations of five seals showed they were killed by a flu infection.
The virus has specific ability to target proteins known as cytokines found in human lungs. This could cause the immune system to go into overdrive and attack itself, causing tissue damage. One reason for their worry was the fact that a small number of experts had considered the likelihood of a bird flu virus infecting seals.
It emphasized the fact that epidemic influenza can appear in unpredicted ways. Lead researcher Dr Anne Moscona, from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, explained there is a concern that they have a new mammalian-transmissible virus to which humans have not been exposed yet. It is a combination that they have not seen in disease before.
Flu could appear from anywhere and the readiness has to be much better than they previously realized. They need to be very quick in their ability to identify and understand the potential risks posed by new viruses emerging from unforeseen sources, added Dr Moscona.
It is significant to realize that viruses can emerge through routes that they have not considered. They need to be alert to those risks and ready to act on them, concluded Dr Moscona. The warning related to seal flu is published in the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology, mBio.