CDC makes virus gene database widely available

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made available genetic blueprints for more than 650 genes of influenza viruses in a database accessible to researchers worldwide to encourage more research on influenza.

CDC, an agency of the Health and Human Services Department, is collaborating with the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the national association representing public health laboratories, for greater access to data on a variety of influenza virus samples obtained from patients in the United States, including avian influenza H5N1 if it should arrive here.

The sequence data is accessible in nearly real time through Genbank, a public access library for virus sequences managed by the National Institutes of Health, and through an influenza database housed at Los Alamos National Laboratories.

The information added will include viruses from the annual flu season in the United States, any animal influenza viruses that infect humans and any novel strains that may emerge such as avian influenza H5N1.

'With more information, the world's influenza experts can advance our understanding of the viruses circulating, potentially create new prevention strategies and treatments, and ultimately help us better protect the health of people around the world,' said Nancy Cox, director of CDC's influenza division.

The sequence information, which is like a DNA fingerprint of each virus, allows researchers to determine more about a virus' origin and to compare it to other influenza viruses. This will help scientists determine whether the virus is susceptible to antiviral drugs and, in the case of avian influenza currently circulating in much of the world, to assess whether it's changing in a way that might make the virus more easily transmissible among people, a key property the virus would need to acquire to spark a pandemic.

In addition, the sequences can be used to better identify the strains that should be included in the yearly flu vaccine.

Previously, the influenza sequences were available to a small number of influenza researchers who work together with the World Health Organization to recommend which influenza viruses should be included in influenza vaccines around the world.

State public health laboratories participate in national influenza surveillance efforts by subtyping viruses and routinely submitting some influenza viruses to CDC for more in-depth characterization. CDC asks public health labs to submit samples of influenza viruses from the beginning, peak and end of each flu season, as well as any samples that are unusual.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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