Exhumation of the body of a British diplomat who died due to Spanish flu in 1919 is likely to commence within the next five months. The scientific community believes that there could be a link between the H1N1 virus that caused the Spanish flu and the present H5N1 virus.
If a link is established, it would go a long way in understanding the mechanism of spread of this infection and further course of treatment. John Oxford, who is a professor of Virology at the Royal London Hospital, said that permission from the family of the diplomat has been obtained and the exhumation process will begin in another five months time.
Exhumation of the body of Sir Mark Sykes is significant as it is buried in a sealed lead coffin which enables the body to be preserved for 200 years. Sykes died in 1919 in Paris apparently after getting the infection in the middle east.
Oxford's team plans to analyze tissue samples from Sykes's body organs and find out if the virus had spread to other organs from the lungs which were the initial seat of infection. They also want to study if there is a distribution of this virus to other organs like the brain, respiratory tract etc. Once clarity on this subject is achieved, the therapeutic line for H5N1 can become a little lucid.
Overreaction in Sykes's immune system or the cytokine storm would also be examined. This is nothing but the inflammation of the lungs and other organs triggered by the overreaction of the immune system which results in the death of a person. H5N1 is said to cause such a reaction ending in instant death.
If cytokine storm is established in Sykes's body, it may be helpful in a study which plans to introduce drugs to bring down the immune system of bird flu victims. But according to Oxford suppressing immune system may prove counter productive.