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'Bird Flu' and the emergence of Influenza Pandemics

Dr. Jose Varghese

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-Ray Science, CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies

Friday 30th September 2005, 3.30PM, Seminar Room AR103, Graduate Research Centre.

Viral epidemics have posed a significant threat to humanity in the past (the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1919 is thought to have killed ~40 million people worldwide), and pose a clear and present danger with emerging viruses like AIDS and SARS that have crossed species barriers. In particular the so called bird flu poses a particularly dangerous threat to human health that many countries around the world are attempting to prepare for the expected emergence of a new influenza pandemic. This is especially urgent since this particular bird influenza is extremely virulent and has a mortality rate of close to fifty percent. However in spite of rapid advances in biology, almost all viral diseases are refractory to treatment.

Vaccinations are the only method of preventative control, but they don’t offer treatment to people that are infected, and are ineffective in controlling rapidly mutating viruses.

Furthermore countries like China, India, Russia and Japan, that are in or near the epicenters of emerging new strains are unable to produce vaccines fast enough to be effective for their populations. Drugs that are designed using structural biology based methods have offered for the first time treatment against some viral diseases, and have proved very effective against influenza. The emergence of avian influenza pandemics will be discussed as will the recent development of anti-viral drugs for the treatment of influenza and insights into the mechanism of drug resistance in viral diseases.

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