Bird flu shown to infect multiple organs

The H5N1 bird flu virus can infect multiple organs besides the lungs, and can be passed across the placenta from mother to child, a Chinese study has found.

The H5N1 strain of influenza is known to cause severe respiratory symptoms, but may also cause damage to the trachea and the brain, the study suggests.

Researchers analysed post-mortem tissues taken from a man and a pregnant woman infected with the H5N1 virus.

They carried out a range of genetic tests to see if the virus had spread to organs other than the lungs.

This showed that viral genetic material and antigens were in epithelial cells in the trachea, T-cells in the lymph nodes, neurons in the brain, and Hofbauer cells and cytotrophoblasts in the placenta, as well as epithelial cells in the lungs.

Tests were also carried out on the foetuses of the infected pregnant women. The researchers found viral genetic material and antigens in the lungs, circulating cells of the immune system and liver cells of the foetus.

Lancet. 2007; 370: 1137-45
www.thelancet.com

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