Last Reviewed on May 13, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1295
Chapter 3: From Sailors to Swine
In November 1918, Navy officials made sixty-two convicted Navy men an offer: if the convicts let doctors deliberately infect them with the flu, they would be pardoned for their crimes. Though such studies are illegal today, in 1918, “such ethical arguments were rarely considered.” The men accepted the offer, and doctors tried every way conceivable to infect them with the respiratory illness, including spraying their noses and throats with mucus collected from infected patients. Yet none of the volunteers contracted the flu, stumping doctors.
A vital clue about the 1918 strain came to light in 1928 through Dr. Richard E. Shope, a young scientist working on diseases in pigs with his mentor, Dr. Paul Lewis, at the Rockefeller Institute. While researching, Dr. Shope stumbled upon “the disease that was to become the consuming passion of his life: swine influenza.” Shope learned that at the start of the flu pandemic, millions of pigs in the American Midwest curiously died of an acute respiratory disease that resembled the human flu. Unable to accept this as a coincidence, J. S. Koen, a government official researching disease in pigs, declared in 1918 that swine and human influenza are “one and the same” and that pigs contracted the disease from humans. However, people were quick to dismiss Koen.
Dr. Shope, however, was intrigued by Koen’s findings. Investigating the flu in swine could, he thought, help unlock the mystery of the killer influenza. Dr. Shope and Dr. Lewis began to infect healthy pigs with microorganisms found only in flu-struck pigs. Dr. Shope’s results ultimately proved that the flu is spread by some unknown thing—apart from bacteria—in the secretions of sick pigs.
At the same time, in England, scientists Dr. Wilson Smith, Dr. Christopher H. Andrewes, and Sir P. P. Laidlaw were involved in a similar mission. After discovering that ferrets are susceptible to the human flu, they inoculated the animals with filtrate from human flu patients. Within days, the ferrets started showing symptoms of the flu. Further, the scientists showed that the disease can pass from sick to healthy ferrets and that ferrets can get influenza from both human and swine filtrate.
Continuing research from both groups of scientists found that animals inoculated with a human flu become immune to swine flu, and vice versa. Thus, antibodies from one strain of influenza may protect against another. But doctors still didn’t know which flu virus caused the 1918 pandemic. Dr. Shope and the British team decided to trace the virus through antibodies in the blood of survivors of the 1918 flu. Plasma from survivors was found to be full of antibodies that completely blocked the swine flu virus Dr. Shope had isolated. On the other hand, people born after 1918 did not have immunity to swine flu.
Dr. Shope believed that the two findings showed the footprints of the 1918 virus and its relation to swine flu. However, lingering questions about the flu could only be answered when scientists were able to obtain a sample of the actual 1918 flu virus.
Chapter 4: A Swedish Adventurer
The quest for that virus took a new direction in 1950 with a Swedish-born scientist named Dr. Johan V. Hultin, who worked at the University of Iowa. In the years since Dr. Shope’s research, pioneering work had been done on the influenza virus. Scientists found that the virus can grow inside chicken eggs, making it far easier to study. Scientists also learned that influenza has different strains, with the type A virus being the most common among humans. In 1941, it was discovered that flu viruses contain a protein called hemagglutinin, so named because it makes red blood cells clump together. In 1944, Americans became the first populace to be vaccinated against influenza, using...
(The entire section contains 1295 words.)
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