Worried about swine flu? Watch the ferrets

By: September 2nd, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

Until recently the only meaningful ferret in my life was the one the inept German nihilists dropped in the Dude’s tub in the 1998 film  “The Big Lebowski.”

Now, ferrets might be very important as they provide a model for the severity of swine flu, or influenza H1N1, and how it will affect us.

It seems that ferrets in lab experiments closely replicate infection transmission dynamics for H1N1 as it relates to humans.

Daniel Perez, Ph.D., from the University of Maryland, presented his ferret research at the Institute of Medicine Workshop on Personal Protective Equipment for Healthcare Workers in the Workplace Against Novel H1N1 Influenza A. This is the workshop that will help the CDC determine whether healthcare workers will need to wear fit-tested N95s, so you might ultimately be able to thank ferrets for your pandemic influenza PPE accouterments.

Perez’s research was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and announced by the National Institutes of Health on August 31.

The research shows through animal studies that the H1N1 virus may have biological advantage over seasonal influenza viruses. When ferrets infected with both H1N1 and seasonal flu virus types were placed with uninfected ferrets, the healthy ferrets eventually came down with H1N1, but not seasonal flu. Perez’s research suggests that human transmission might follow the same pattern. While having a clear-cut advantage over other flu viruses, H1N1 will result in a high transmission rate but there will be little pressure for it to mutate—perhaps to an even more dangerous form.

“The results suggest that 2009 H1N1 influenza may outcompete seasonal flu virus strains and may be more communicable as well. These new data, while preliminary, underscore the need for vaccinating against both seasonal influenza and the 2009 H1N1 influenza this fall and winter,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

Now if we can only get flu-suffering ferrets to call in sick to see how their boss ferrets react to expanded sick leave policies.


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