It seemed like just yesterday we were talking about the swine flu epidemic (which I liked to call "pig flu" because I had it twice -- don't ASK me how I got to be so lucky). And (what felt to be) the day before that? It was bird flu that had us all freaked out -- with good reason!
Happily poised to be the next sort of health threat to us is from yet another animal: seal flu.
Originally identified in a New England harbor, a brand new form of influenza found in seals can possibly infect wildlife and humans alike. While there is not much known yet about this newly identified "seal flu," scientists are closely watching it to ensure that there is no massive pandemic, newly mutated flu viruses, or any outbreaks caused by this strain.
Scientists report that while it's unlikely the virus (dubbed a catchy "H3N8") will be transmitted from humans to animals by direct contact, H3N8 may find ways to mutate to make it easily transmissible between humans and animals.
Seal flu, which has killed 162 and counting seals off the East Coast, targets a protein in the human respiratory tract. This may make the virus more easily transmitted to people.
Scary thought, right?
Scientists and virologists are keeping a watchful eye on the seal flu so that they can be prepared for anything. They're encouraging people to make sure to get their flu shots in the hopes that the immunization can help to reduce the instances of the flu in the general population.
In that vein, please be sure to get a flu shot this year, wash your hands often, and avoid sick people.
Have you ever had one of the animal flu viruses?
Image via mape_s/Flickr