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8/24/2006
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Gene Database Gives Researchers Access To Bird Flu, Other Virus Info

The database will make it easier for researchers to track virus mutations, including strains that pass from human to human.

Fortunately, flu season is still a few months away. However, researchers and scientists who study flu viruses--including those developing vaccines for Avian flu--have a new online resource to access the genetic blueprints for several hundred influenza viruses.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Association of Public Health Laboratories are contributing genetic sequencing data on more than 650 flu viruses to a database.

The data is available in near real-time though 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, from patient samples collected by pubic health labs, and any animal flu viruses that infect humans. It will also include any "novel" strains that may emerge, including bird influenza H5N1.

"This will also make it easier for researchers to monitor mutations" of flu viruses, says a CDC spokeswoman. These mutations include the genomic sequencing of H5NI that might indicate changes in Avian viruses evolving into strains that can pass from human-to-human contact.

The information can also aid researchers in identifying changes in viruses indicating resistance to anti-viral drugs, the spokeswoman says.

Currently, the database will contain genetic information only about viruses isolated in the United States. However "moves are under way" to include data from other countries, such as Indonesia, where there have been a number of confirmed cases of human Avian flu.

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