Swine Flu: BLASTing viruses
No matter what you open, turn on, or tune into, chances are you'll catch a headline about swine flu. The outbreak can be tracked at HealthMap or with their newly launched Twitter stream, which, according to Discovery News, was created in response to swine flu to enable more frequent updates than the hourly ones on the official HealthMap website.
A respiratory illness once limited to pigs, with occasional transmission to humans, the strain of swine flu that has appeared today and in cases throughout Mexico and the United States is unusual because it is capable of being spread from human to human. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this current swine flu has been sequenced and identified as part of the H1N1 family of influenza viruses. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set the pandemic alert level for swine flu at phase 4, which indicates "sustained human-to-human transmission." Stages 5 and 6 represent pandemic levels of widespread transmission.
Scientists are currently hard at work to develop a vaccine, and the WHO has sequenced the flue strain. However, as reported by Scientific American, the process of developing a vaccine could take months
Understanding what goes into isolating, identifying, and developing treatments for a virus, involves understanding the genetics of different virus strains. The Science Buddies BLASTing Flu viruses is an advanced computer-based science fair project idea that looks at the composition of viral strains and uses the Influenza Sequence Database and Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST), a powerful Web-based tool for sequence alignment.
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