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Does the influenza virus always originate in birds and not any other species?

Does the influenza virus always originate in birds and not any other species? If so, could this have led to the demise of the dinosaurs?
Isobel Hutton from Greater London (Age 55+)

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One Response

  1. There are lots and lots of different types of influenza virus which infect different types of organisms. The avian flu you have heard about in the news, H5N1, is just one type of virus. Some flu viruses can infect only one type of animal, others can infect a few. It all depends on the proteins that can be found on the coat of the virus and whether these help the virus get into host cells.

    One of the ways a specific flu virus can infect a new species is by going through a middle host. For example, pigs can be susceptible to human and bird viruses and when infected the proteins that mark the virus (these are the Hs and the Ns that give it it’s name) can get mixed up. Should a pig be infected with a human and an avian strain at the same time then these proteins could be mixed in such a way that a new strain of the avian flu is made that will be able to infect humans.

    As to whether dinosaurs could’ve gone extinct because of flu, well I know of no reason to suppose that flu wasn’t around then but it wouldn’t have anything to do with birds necessarily. There is a lot of argument in science at the moment about whether birds did evolve from dinosaurs or not.

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