swine flu: Winnipeg lab: Why are Mexicans are being hit the hardest


Richard Moore

Flu virus baffles Canadian scientists
Winnipeg lab can’t find reason why Mexicans are being hit the hardest
May 07, 2009


OTTAWA–Canadian scientists discovered nothing in the genetic makeup of the H1N1 virus that would explain why symptoms are far more severe in Mexico than in all but one of the 201 confirmed cases here.

A team of researchers at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg worked day and night to finish the first genetic sequencing of samples of the virus from Canada and Mexico in less than a week, federal health officials announced yesterday.

“This does take us a step forward in terms of our understanding of how the virus works,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones said.

Scientists mapped the building blocks of three samples from Mexico, Nova Scotia and Ontario and ruled out genetic mutation as the reason why the virus appears to be far more virulent in Mexico.

That leaves scientists looking elsewhere for answers. Dr. Frank Plummer, scientific director at the Winnipeg laboratory, said they are looking at other factors like the environment in Mexico, the existence of another infectious agent spreading through the country at the same time or the individual genetics of the Mexican patients.

Living conditions in Mexico and how quickly a patient first went to the hospital are also possible factors, Butler-Jones said.

The only severe case in Canada remains that of a young girl from Edmonton.

Last night, a spokesperson at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital confirmed a hospital worker is at home recovering after contracting the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. It has been determined the ill worker had no link to Mexico.

The hospital revealed few details about the employee. All spokesperson Gillian Howard would say is that she is a female who was not involved in direct patient care.

The staffer had a nasal swab taken about six days ago. There is about a five-day turnaround on lab test results, Howard noted.

Howard said hospital officials were evaluating and following up with any colleagues who had direct contact with the ill worker.

Princess Margaret is not advising patients to stay away from the hospital if they have appointments. It’s business as usual, Howard said.

Public health authorities across Canada yesterday announced 36 newly confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus to bring the total to 201.

There are eight new cases in British Columbia, four in Alberta, six in Quebec, five in Nova Scotia and 13 in Ontario.

With files from Theresa Boyle

Canadian pork safe despite warning, minister says

The Canadian government says pork is safe to eat despite a warning by the World Health Organization that the swine flu virus could survive in slaughtered pigs.

“Canadian pork is safe. There is no danger,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz insisted yesterday after serving up pork sandwiches to MPs and government workers on Parliament Hill.

Earlier in the day, a WHO official said the pig strain of the H1N1 virus may withstand freezing and persist in the thawed meat and blood of infected animals.

But Dr. Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Canada has safeguards to keep diseased pigs from making it to market. He said pigs are screened on farms for illnesses and assessed at slaughterhouses.

The Canadian Press