Researchers at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology announced Thursday that biopsy specimens from a frozen corpse exhumed from a cemetery in Brevig Mission, Alaska, contain genetic material from the killer flu.
Experts have said that analyzing the 1918 virus genetic pattern will help scientists learn how that particular virus was able to kill so many people worldwide and will help researcher prepare vaccines to protect against the virus if it breaks out again.
The specimen was taken from the lung of one of 72 people buried in a mass grave after the flu swept through Brevig Mission, then known as Teller Mission, in 1918. The small town lost 85 percent of its population in a single week.
Dr. Johan Hultin, a retired San Francisco pathologist, exhumed four bodies from the mass grave and found that one, an obese woman, was well preserved. Tissue from her lung was later found to contain genes from the killer flu.
Dr. Jeffery K. Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology said last year that the genetic pattern of the 1918 flu virus is unlike any other flu bug, but is closely related to the so-called "swine flu." The virus apparently was a mutation that evolved in American pigs and was spread around the globe by U.S. troops mobilized for World War I.
The 1918 flu epidemic caused about 700,000 deaths in the United States and about a quarter of the nation's population contracted the illness.
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed