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Medical News and Perspectives
April 7, 2004

Clues to the Deadly 1918 Flu Revealed

JAMA. 2004;291(13):1553. doi:10.1001/jama.291.13.1553

For decades, the characteristics of the virus that caused the largest recorded outbreak of any infectious disease in history have remained mysterious. But now scientists have unveiled important structural properties of a key viral protein that may help explain why the 1918 "Spanish" influenza pandemic was so devastating, killing 20 to 40 million individuals worldwide.

Several researchers have retrieved viral DNA fragments from Alaskan flu victims buried in permafrost, as well as from archived autopsy materials. Historical records show that influenza spread through one village in Alaska in 5 days, killing about 85% of the adult population; the dead were buried in a mass grave in permafrost.

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