Ohio State University scientists use new math and computer techniques to identify six viruses genetically close to H1N1 Swine Flu; and UK’s Cats Protection says pregnant women safe from Toxoplasmosis if they follow simple guidelines.

Photo by Rafboy 15. Wikimedia Commons.

Global 06/13/11 eurekalert.org: Scientists using new mathematical and computational techniques have identified six influenza A viruses that have particularly close genetic relationships to the H1N1 “swine” flu virus that swept through the United States beginning in the spring of 2009. That virus eventually killed almost 18,000 people worldwide. Biological studies focused on these strains of influenza virus could shed light on how the 2009 pandemic strain of influenza emerged, aiding in efforts to forestall another pandemic, the researchers say. Five of these viruses were isolated from pigs, and the sixth had infected a human who worked with hogs.

The researchers arrived at these strains by using powerful computers to analyze the relationships between the genomes of more than 5,000 strains of influenza A that have been isolated over several decades and recently sequenced. Rather than using the conventional approach of constructing phylogenetic trees that illustrate organisms’ hypothetical ancestors, these scientists set up a network that captured paths leading from previously observed viruses to contemporary viruses. Biologists for years have used a tree to trace how viruses change over time by undergoing mutations, some of which allow them to resist attacks from immune systems or drugs, jump from host to host and keep surviving. But viruses also exchange genetic material with contemporaries, most commonly when two or more strains infect the same host. This process is called re-assortment, and this computer-based networking model is a novel way to see how it all happened in influenza in over time.

Dr. Daniel Janies

“It’s not unlike a social network, except that it’s tracking an exchange of genetic material rather than gossip,” said Daniel Janies, associate professor of biomedical informatics at Ohio State University and a co-author of the study. “This network gives us an explicit historical and molecular map of how influenza A viruses evolved from several ancestors to modern-day viruses.” Janies conducted the work with Ohio State co-authors Shahid Bokhari, a research professor of biomedical informatics, and Laura Pomeroy, a postdoctoral researcher in veterinary preventive medicine. The research is published online in the journal IEEE Transactions on Computational Biology and Bioinformatics. (For complete article go to http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-06/osu-tu061311.php )

Global 06/13/11 madeformums.com: by Katie Garner – Cat loving pregnant women will be pleased to hear that they don’t have to get rid of their cats for the safety of their unborn child, as the charity Cats Protection issues guidelines to reassure mums.

A recent online survey of 1,500 mums or mums-to-be revealed that 60% of them believed their pets could pass on an illness to their babies, yet Cats Protection says that ditching your moggie† is unnecessary as 35% of women are given the wrong advice about toxoplasmosis. “Studies show that cat owners are statistically no more likely to get toxoplasmosis than non-cat owners.

Dr. Maggie Roberts

The chance of contracting the disease from your cat is very small indeed – in fact you are more likely to get it from handling raw meat,” said Maggie Roberts, Cat Protection’s Director of Veterinary Services “Of course all cat owners should practice good hygiene routines, especially hand washing after dealing with a litter tray and before handling food, but that’s just common sense,” Maggie continues “I’m horrified how many women give up a loved family pet because they wrongly believe they shouldn’t have contact with cats during pregnancy. This can upset the whole family. As for the poor cat, it goes into care and charities like Cats Protection are stuck with finding new homes – not an easy task in this current climate,” Dr Carol Cooper, a family doctor and parenting author, said. Maggie believes that many women were taking advice from non-qualified resources, such as some online forums and blogs as well as family members. Cats Protection suggests pregnant cat owners should follow these guidelines:

  • Get someone else to change your cat’s litter tray, but if you have to do it, make sure you wear gloves
  • Change your cat’s litter tray daily
  • Don’t feed your cat raw meat
  • Outdoor sandboxes should be kept covered
  • Gloves should be worn when gardening
  • Always wash your hands after contact with stray cats and kittens

† English term for a domesticated cat, sometimes used as the cat equivalent of a mongrel dog.

(For video titled “Toxoplasmosis – Don’t believe the old wives’ tales” go to http://www.madeformums.com/pregnancy/no-need-to-ditch-your-cat-during-pregnancy-experts-reveal/14171.html )

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