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Australian study could help predict flu pandemic

Photo: Aust study could help predict flu pandemic
Australian researchers have revealed the genetic structure of the influenza virus and say it could help predict a future pandemic.

Australian researchers have mapped the genetic structure of the flu and it could help predict the next pandemic.

Unlocking the make-up of the influenza A strain has allowed scientists to see how it can morph into completely new viruses, University of Melbourne flu researcher Lorena Brown said.

"People didn't think about how the virus was packaged together ... so it's sort of opening the field up now to more research that ultimately will allow us the predict these strains that might emerge," she told AAP.
Influenza viruses are made up of eight genome segments and these can swap with others to create an entirely new virus.

This is what happened with swine flu in 2009, Prof Brown said.

"Nobody had antibodies to that because no one had seen that virus before," she said.

"We had to create a whole new different vaccine very quickly."

The influenza A breakthrough won't prevent pandemics but it could help health authorities respond more effectively.

"It's not an instant, 'oh this is going to give us better vaccines'," Prof Brown said.

"With this technology and with this know how, ultimately we hope to be able to predict what combinations of viruses are likely to emerge and so we can be better prepared ... and are able to assess how severe they're going to be as well."

Prof Brown has co-authored a report on the flu mapping, to be released on Tuesday.

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