Un­lock­ing the se­crets of the flu virus

Flu Hunter: Un­lock­ing the se­crets of a virus By Robert G. Web­ster, Otago Univer­sity Press, $35

Bay News - - HELLO WORLD - — Linda Thomp­son

How timely. As we slowly lurch from awet, cold win­ter into awet, cold spring, here’s this book about the flu and why it’s killing us.

World-renowned vi­rol­o­gist is an in­ter­na­tional ex­pert on this nasty disease, and­was amongthe first to link hu­man and avian flu H5N1, know­nas bird flu. But he him­self says af­ter 100 years of study­ing the 1918 flu out­break, which killed40 mil­lion to 100mil­lion peo­ple, west­ill don’t know why it was such a killer.

He out­lines some of his work, in­clud­ing ex­hum­ing bod­ies of the Span­ish flu vic­tims from Arc­tic per­mafrost to test ge­netic ma­te­rial.

It’s a global ad­ven­ture of sorts, chas­ing down the bird vec­tors which spread the lat­est ver­sions of flu, and prob­a­bly the his­toric ones as well. This is his first per­son ac­count of de­tec­tive work since the 1960s.

He­says the most dan­ger­ous birds are ducks. Yes, ducks.

H5N1 poses the most se­ri­ous pub­lic health threat since the Span­ish flu. Flu vic­tims in Viet­nam and Thai­land got sick from di­rect con­tact with in­fected poul­try. And Dr Web­ster says it’s only am­at­ter of time be­fore this virus, as he puts it, “goes off”.

It grates when peo­ple who have taken a day or two off work with a cold say they’ve had “the flu”. If you’ve ever had real flu, youknow the dif­fer­ence. Manyof us know some­one who has died or been se­verely ill.

It’s small com­fort to know that this Otago-born doc­tor is the one manin the world who could find the an­swer to its mys­tery.

Au­thor Robert G. Web­ster.

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