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What is swine flu?

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Q: This super-virus we're looking at now is said to be a cross between a pig flu, a human flu and also the bird flu, which has been deadly too. Does this make it even more dangerous?

Dr Smith: Flu is broken down into a number of different types: there's flu A, flu B and flu C. Flu A is the bird form and, of course, humans also have a flu A. Then we further categorise it according to the surface molecules, the H (for Haemagglutinin) and the N on the surface.

This new strain is a H1N1 virus, which we know circulates in humans, pigs and birds. It's possible that the pig initially got some of its flu from a bird and then co-mixed that with the human form to produce this hybrid, which is why you can find elements of all three.

It is very much early days and the big focus now, through infection control organisations like the Centres for Disease and Prevention (CDP) and the WHO, will be to interrogate this virus at a molecular level.

In other words, look at the genetic make-up, sequence the virus, and once they've got the genetic sequence you can begin to unpick where it's come from, what its origins are, and therefore begin to build the story as to what its likely outcome will be.

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