In days, swine flu becomes topic A for scientists

The Los Angeles Times followed the swine flu from its identification in San Diego to the level 5 pandemic alert that it triggered in a matter of days.

One key point: Michael W. Shaw's laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where the scientist cracked the genome and revealed a new flu strain. Six of the virus's eight genes had been swimming in U.S. pigs for years. But two more genes were from Asia and Europe. That discovery led Richard Webby at St. Jude's to speculate that a pig was sickened by two different strains, reshuffling the genetic machinery into a new strain that later made the jump to humans and is now traveling around the planet.

Another key stage: 39-year-old Adela Gutierrez became the first person to die from the flu on April 13. At first, doctors suspected SARS, but then found the unique A strain. But it took eight days from the time Mexican authorities notified the CDC of respiratory ailments south of the border for it to be connected to the U.S. cases.

And on Monday the NIH published the gene sequence for all scientists to study at /genomes/FLU. More scientists are being recruited to study the virus and researchers at the University of Georgia have begun animal studies to test how easily it can migrate among animals. Much more work remains to be done.

"My own feeling is, we're just recognizing a very small number of people who have been infected," said Dr. Michele Ginsberg, chief epidemiologist for San Diego County. "We learn more every day."

- read the article in the Los Angeles Times