Though many deadly diseases may exist and abound, they are often limited or restricted to the patient or those infected; the idea of having a cancer that was contagious would be both alarming and cause for great concern.
Of course, there are indeed diseases that are contagious, even airborne that can quickly infect populations and most often these can become endemic or even pandemic. Recent scares in this regard have been SARS, Bird Flu and even Swine Flu and it is the latter two in particular that are worrisome, owing to the ubiquity of the animals in questions.
Thankfully, these strains of the flu, while existent, have not spread, they are still an area of concern and now according to a new research, it seems yet another mammalian type strain of flu has evolved, this time in seals.
Researchers from the US have identified a new strain of influenza that has this time affected seals, saying that the flu may have originated from birds and passed onto these seals. The flu, dubbed H3N8, was first observed in New England harbor seals, where amongst the population, some 160 mysteriously died from pneumonia last year. Upon conducting autopsies, researchers discovered that the seals had contracted a strain of influenza, H3N8, which, according to the researchers, had been found in birds in the US some years ago.
The discovery, according to the researchers, has highlighted the fact that a new flu strain could possibly come from any corner, as the occurrence of the flu in seals points to a “new jump” of the virus and possible adaptation.
Speaking to the BBC about the new flu, co-author of the study, Prof. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University said, "It's something that's been circulating for a while in birds, but we've not had this sort of die off relating to this virus in the past. As we've looked at it in some detail, we've found there have been mutations in this virus which enable it to bind to both bird receptors for flu as well as mammalian receptors for flu."
According to the study, this new flu is possibly even more virulent, as besides evolving rapidly, it can potentially cause severe symptoms, targeting a specific protein in the respiratory tract.
Editor on the study, Dr. Anne Moscona of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City also spoke about the seal flu, saying, "There is a concern that we have a new mammalian-transmissible virus to which humans haven't yet been exposed. It's a combination we haven't seen in disease before."