WHAT IS THE FLU: The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which targets the respiratory tract by binding to the surface of cells. Then the virus releases its genetic information (RNA) into the cell's nucleus to replicate itself. When the cell dies, those copies are released into the body, infecting other cells. Flu symptoms are unpleasant, but usually not life-threatening by themselves. However, the flu weakens the immune system, making the body vulnerable to more serious infections, such as pneumonia.
PANDEMIC PANIC: Being able to determine the specific influenza strain in a sample may help world health officials combat future flu epidemics and pandemics. Strain identification is critical for tracking emerging strains and determining which flu strains are most likely to infect the population the following year in order to develop annual preventive vaccines. Historically, flu pandemics occur when a new strain of the flu virus emerges that is particularly contagious. They can cause millions of deaths worldwide, ranking a flu pandemic among the top four global risks listed by the World Economic Forum.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association, the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, and the Biophysical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.