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H1N1 Swine Flu, What Does It Really Mean?

Michael Santo's picture

As controversy swirls about using the term "swine flu" for the A H1N1 virus currently sweeping around the globe, the question arises: what the heck does H1N1 mean?

Earlier this week, Israeli deputy health minister, Yakov Litzman, a member of an ultra-religious party, said that the name "swine flu" should not be used as it contains the name of an animal banned by Judaism. Instead he proposed the name "Mexican flu."

You can imagine how that went over with Mexico's ambassador to Israel. Later the statement was retracted and said to be a joke, or a slip of the tongue. Right.

At any rate, the virus is actually a combination of swine, avian, and human flus, which makes pigs far too blame-worthy by calling it swine flu.

At any rate, scientifically the virus is influenza A H1N1. The "H" refers to the hemagglutinin molecule, which is a molecule on the surface of the virus that allows it to key into its target cell.

"N" refers to neuraminidase, which is another molecule, also on the surface of the virus. In this case, it allows the virus, once replicated, to key out of the cell that it’s been "born" in.

There are 16 different types of hemagglutinins and 9 different types of neuraminidases.

H1N1 is the same virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed 20 to 40 million people around the globe. This is, of course, a descendent virus.

The fact that the new swine flu has H1N1 molecules doesn't make it identical to the 1918 strain, however. As indicated, it has genes from swine flu, avian flu, and human flu.

There, you now probably know far more about swine flu and its scientific ID than you really want to know. Or perhaps, in this time of outbreak, you want as much info as you can get.

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