Zombie virus: What happens if rabies, flu viruses hybrid?
Syed Akbar Hyderabad: The rabies season has just receded. And it's time now for the human influenzaor common cold to take on. Rabies and common cold are caused by virus. Both have no known medical cure.While common cold subsides within a week without causing much harm, rabies has always proved to belethal. Both the viruses have different properties and genetic make-up. The course of diseasethey choose within the human body are different. There's no similarity whatsoever except that they belong toone group of organism called viruses. Of late, with rabies and common cold, particularly caused by the novel human influenzavirus H1N1, creating panic in the State, scientists took time off their busy laboratory schedules torun their imagination wild ala the Hollywood's zombie flicks in which different viruses mutate or hybridise toemerge into dangerous pathogens. The question they have now thought of is: what happens if rabies andcommon cold viruses exchange their genetic make-up to emerge into a new hybrid strain of virus thathas the properties of both rabies and flu pathogens? The answer though improbable is quite chilling. The new virus will just spread havoc,killing people everywhere and turning cities into graveyards. In other words it means rabies will becomeair-borne, spreading through air, unlike the present scenario where it is spread through bite by arabid dog. "Rabies has been under check thanks to stray dog control programmes by local municipalbodies, but if the rabies virus gets the traits of human influenza virus, which is capable of spreadingthrough air, nothing will stop it. But it is unlikely to happen though some scientists in the US believeotherwise," says senior geneticist Dr MN Khaja. And since the "air-borne" rabies virus will find its way into the body either throughmouth or nose, death will be instantaneous or within a couple of days. "Unlike other pathogens which travelthrough blood or lymph, the rabies virus makes its way to the brain through the nerves. The nearer theroute of infection of rabies virus to the brain, the faster the death," adds veterinary surgeon Dr Muralidhar. Some scientists visualise a zombie like situation in the world of humans and viruses ifthe rabies and human influenza viruses undergo the process of hybridisation. The rabies virus, when mutatedwith the influenza virus, will behave like a zombie, with uncontrolled madness. The infected humans too willbehave like zombies, according to National Geographic report, which point out that Hollywood's zombieflicks could very well become a reality. To support its claim, the NG report talks of scientists in northern Arizona, who havefound that animals particularly skunks and foxes are actually spreading the virus through socialisation i.e through aerial route. Just by moving together with an infected animal, a healthy animal may be infected with the air-borne virus, not necessarily through bite. "What is unusual is that this new strain of rabies appears to have mutated so that foxesand skunks are now able to pass the virus on to their kin - not just through biting and scratching butthrough simple socialising, as humans might spread a flu," says a report by National Geographic News. In the Indian scenario, wild animals are spreading the rabies virus to domestic animalslike dogs. As members of dog family like foxes and wolves, as well as primates like monkeys too harbourrabies within their bodies, they are believed to be spreading the disease to stray dogs through contactor what scientists call socialisation between different species. "Canine rabies typically occurs in the outskirts of the city and rural/tribal areas,where they come in contact with wild animals and contract the disease and then bring it into populated areas," says infectious diseases expert Suneetha Narreddy of Apollo Hospitals. Rabies is a disease caused by a virus that is almost always fatal. It is spread by anumber of animals including dogs and cats. In the wild, the rabies virus is present in bats, racoons,skunks, foxes, wolves, wild dogs and monkeys. Whether the rabies virus is transmitted from wild animals to stray dogsthrough bites or socialisation is yet to be studied. But since rabies and flu viruses are of different genetic make-up, hybridisation betweenthe two is theoretically impossible. Mother Nature is supreme and anything is possible if things goawry, thanks to man's meddling of the natural laws. New pathogens and new diseases have evolved in therecent past and what once formed part of science fiction has now become a reality. Let's hope, such adeadly strain with a combination of rabies and flu traits never become a reality. ======= Box item: ------------ * Viruses are simple DNA or RNA structures with a protein or lipid coat, but capable ofcausing mass scale death in human beings and plants. * Viruses are a sort of barrier between living and non-living creatures in the sense thatviruses are capable of replicating only in the presence of a living host - plant or animal. They are as goodas dead when they are on non-living creatures. * There's no known medical cure for diseases caused by viruses. At best diseases causedby viruses can be stopped or prevented through vaccination. * Some of the notable diseases caused by viruses are HIV/AIDS, rabies, swine flu, birdflu, Japanese encephalitis, common cold, cancer of cervix in women, chicken pox and polio. * Viruses including the notorious HIV cannot survive in alkaline or soapy medium. Washinghands with soap is one of the best preventive methods. * Viruses are capable of mutating i.e changing their structure at a fast pace. This makesdrug discovery a difficult task.