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Origins of the swine flu virus

Researchers use evolutionary history to trace the early days of the pandemic

6:59pm, June 11, 2009

Closely related forms of the H1N1 strain of influenza virus circulated undetected in swine for years, a study published online June 11 in Nature reports. The virus, which has spread to multiple continents, has now been classified by the World Health Organization as a pandemic.

“Based on this report, we had a virus circulating in pigs for 10 years and nobody knew anything about it because we were not doing proper surveillance,” says Daniel Perez, an influenza expert at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Researchers traced the sordid past of the H1N1 virus by comparing mutations among different strains of the virus. Genetic sequences of 15 swine influenzas from Hong Kong and two human H1N1 viruses were compared with 796 sequences representing a large spectrum of related strains from humans, birds and pigs.

Analyzing numbers of mutations allowed an international team of researchers to estimate how long ago the strains first e

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