Don’t become a member of the walking dead: How animals affect flu viruses
Who doesn’t love Sunday night TV? One of my favorite shows is the The Walking Dead. Yes, I’m
a zombie connoisseur, intrigued and humored by zombie lore and legend for as long as I can remember. So, in the last episode of The Walking Dead, my ears perked up when I heard the word ‘flu.’
Here’s what happened: the gang was lead to believe that one of their own had gotten the flu, possibly from a sick pig and became infected with a lethal strain of influenza. Poor Patrick – got the flu, died and turned into a zombie…
I’ve had the flu before and while in its throes have felt, and maybe even looked like (sans the rotting flesh) a zombie. But, yesterday’s episode got me thinking more about how the flu is passed between humans and animals.
We’ve all heard of the swine flu or the avian flu, so mutation and transmission between species does happens. But how does it happen? Could a sick pig have passed along a fast acting, mutated, lethal flu virus in yesterday’s episode? Is it possible?
In checking out the CDC, here’s what I found out:
- Influenza-A viruses are found in many different animals, including ducks, chickens, pigs, whales, horses and seals.
- Influenza-A is divided into two subtypes, based on two proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin and neuraminidase.
- There are 17 difference hemagglutinin subtypes of influenza-A.
- All know subtypes of influenza-A have been found among birds, save H17N10, which has only been found in bats.
- Wild birds are thought to be the course of influenza-A virus in all other animals.
- Infection with certain strains of bird or ‘avian’ flu virus, such as H5 and H7, can cause widespread disease and death among some wild and domestic birds such as chickens.
- Pigs can be infected with human, avian and swine influenza viruses at the same time.
- Because pigs can be infected with influenza viruses from different species (e.g., ducks and humans) at the same time, it is possible for the genes of these viruses to mix and create a new virus.
The CDC also brings out that “while it is unusual for people to get influenza infections directly from animals, sporadic human infections and outbreaks caused by certain avian influenza-A viruses have been reported.”
Now, I’m not saying a flu shot would’ve saved Patrick from a flu strain that mutated during the zombie apocalypse, but what I am saying is that flu vaccinations are the best protection from the most common flu strains.
If you’re a BCBSM or BCN member, check out this information to learn more about how to get your flu shot and get your vaccination today.
Photo credit: Joe Gatling