New York University scientists recently discovered that even minor influenza strains can still have a significant impact and create notable health threats to the public.
This discovery could change how scientists create vaccines, as these minor strains typically aren’t included as targets within vaccines.
The analysis uses samples that were taken from the 2009 influenza pandemic in Hong Kong. The results show the minor influenza strains were a significant part of the transmission process, as they were contracted with the influenza’s major strains. These minor strains invade a host and then replicate themselves while avoiding vaccines.
"A flu virus infection is not a homogeneous mix of viruses, but, rather, a mix of strains that gets transmitted as a swarm in the population," Elodie Ghedin, a professor in New York University's Department of Biology and College of Global Public Health, said. "Current vaccines target the dominant strains, because they are the ones that seem to infect the largest number of individuals. But our findings reveal an ability of minor strains to elude these vaccines and spread the virus in ways not previously known."
The researchers used a unique approach to study the strains.
"The combination of unique data, sequencing approaches and mathematical methods create a nuanced picture of the transmission of diversity during a pandemic," Benjamin Greenbaum, an assistant professor at the Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and co-author of the study, said.
Because of how the viruses operate, they can spread in such a way that the minor strains become a larger problem than originally thought.
"We were able to look at the variants and could link individuals based on these variants," Ghedin said. "What stood out was also how these mixes of major and minor strains were being transmitted across the population during the 2009 pandemic -- to the point where minor strains became dominant."