For the study, the researchers will be comparing sequences of viruses associated with the current outbreak in Argentina with those found in other locations.
The researchers are aiming to determine whether there are differences that may be linked to higher mortality rates or provide insights into virus evolution.
The Mailman School of Public Health researchers, led by Dr. Gustavo Palacios and Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, plan to completely sequence up to 150 virus specimens from nasopharyngeal swabs and cultures over the next 10 days, and will share their findings with the larger scientific community.
With the complete sequencing of these virus specimens, the team will be able to both characterize severe versus mild cases, as well as determine how the virus evolved at different points in time.
Swine flu has killed 165 people in Argentina, more than any nation with the exception of the U.S.
Any significant changes in the virus might influence the effectiveness of vaccines or drugs used to fight the pandemic.
"No one knows how this pandemic will evolve. Continuous surveillance will be essential to focusing both research and public health response. We are analyzing these isolates in New York and Argentina; nonetheless, we expect that members of the broader scientific community will bring new insights. Thus, our plan is to release sequences in draft form so that the vetting process can begin as soon as possible," said Dr. Lipkin.
"While there is no evidence so far to indicate the emergence of resistance to the oseltamivir vaccine, the antiviral drug that blocks the influenza virus from spreading between cells in the body, we are cautious about the findings until we have more sequences. The changes already noted in comparing the outbreak in Argentina to the U.S. haven't previously been associated with greater virulence," said Dr. Palacios.