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View Diary: Pandemic Lotto (155 comments)

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  •  I have no problems with cursory explanations, but (1+ / 0-)
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    explaining it this way can lead to a misunderstanding of the way it spreads.

    A better explanation would be something like this:

    Say a person infected with a common strain of human flu is working in close proximity to other animals, like chickens or pigs, infected with their own strain. Sooner or later, both strains, human and animal, might be in one probably soon-to-be-deathly-ill critter, meaning that sooner or later two strains of flu virus infect a single host cell. When that happens, the newly replicated strands of RNA from each respective strain can get mixed up in the stampede to form up in groups of eight and exit the unlucky cell.

    Each of those strains carry genes known, for short, as "H" and "N"; the various forms of those genes are numbered 1, 2, 3, and so on. The various types get numbered. In this case, that genetic swap meet, known as recombination, resulted in a strain with H gene 1 and N gene 1, which is why the WHO calls it H1N1 (as opposed, to the "bird flu," which is H5N1).

    This resorting of RNA strands results in different arrangements and kinds of knobs and spikes on the coat, just as different genes in humans can affect eye or skin color; this process is called antigenic shift, and helps to explain why new flu vaccines are needed each year.

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