While officials offer reassurance about the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, scientists around the world are racing to understand its inner workings, because it could evolve into a deadlier strain.
Scientists at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology are comparing hundreds of different flu strains, dating back to 1918, to the current one, reports CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook.
"Our specific interest is to understand whether there's already a pre-existing immune memory, an immune response against this particular virus," said Alessandro Sette, with the La Jolla institute.
The research could offer clues as to who might have some immunity during a pandemic.
"If you got infected with one type of virus would you be protected against another type of virus, and how closely related would they have to be?" asked William Schaffner, the chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine Vanderbilt University.
H1 and N1 are two proteins that sit on the surface off this new flu virus and help it infect cells. The body fights the flu by blocking those proteins. But a virus can change in a matter of hours, often by reshuffling its genetic material with another flu virus, after they've infected the same cell. If that happens, the virus can develop a new coat containing new proteins, disguising it from the immune system. The body can't fight what it can't see.
Flu viruses thrive in cold, dry air. So while this current H1N1 may die out here during the summer, it could thrive in the southern hemisphere, where it's winter.
"If you have the H1N1 virus circulating throughout their winter, and it combines with the regular influenza virus, they can share genes," Schaffner said."And it conceivably could pick up a gene that makes it resistant to Tamiflu as well."
Researchers are going full speed ahead to decode this virus before the fall.