“Sometimes It Pays to Read the Old Literature”

(p. A1) Researchers in New York believe they have solved one of the great mysteries of the flu: Why does the infection spread primarily in the winter months?

The answer, they say, has to do with the virus itself. It is more stable and stays in the air longer when air is cold and dry, the exact conditions for much of the flu season.

. . .

(p. A22) To his surprise, Dr. Palese stumbled upon a solution that appeared to be a good second best.

Reading a paper published in 1919 in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the flu epidemic at Camp Cody in New Mexico, he came upon a key passage: “It is interesting to note that very soon after the epidemic of influenza reached this camp, our laboratory guinea pigs began to die.” At first, the study’s authors wrote, they thought the animals had died from food poisoning. But, they continued, “a necropsy on a dead pig revealed unmistakable signs of pneumonia.”

Dr. Palese bought some guinea pigs and exposed them to the flu virus. Just as the paper suggested, they got the flu and spread it among themselves. So Dr. Palese and his colleagues began their experiments.

. . .

As for Dr. Palese, he was glad he spotted the journal article that mentioned guinea pigs.

“Sometimes it pays to read the old literature,” he said.

 

For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. “Study Shows Why the Flu Likes Winter.” The New York Times (Weds., December 5, 2007): A1 & A22.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

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