East Texas doctor decodes flu virus

By Morgan Chesky mchesky@kltv.com

Since the outbreak began last week, doctors worldwide have been working to figure it out. One team based in Tyler is also trying to break down just what makes H1N1 tick.

It's a small building on the U.T. Health Science Center Campus, but inside doctors are working towards solving a big threat, the H1N1 flu virus.

"Even after having longer than a week, we don't know the exact nature of this new virus," says microbiologist Dr. Amir Shams.

For the past year Shams has worked to decode various strains of influenza, including H1N1. Leading a team of doctors, he believes traditional vaccines may not be the long term answer.

"Since this virus mutates very quickly, it's a kind of moving target for the scientists who are in the vaccine development to make a very kind of general vaccine against all the strains. The way we look at the situation is we want to have a generic prevention and even treatment for the virus," he says.

Sham's answer, immunomodulators: a long word for chemicals created naturally in the body which boost your immune system.  Treating many strains of flu rather than specific ones like vaccines, Shams has been successful in keeping test subjects alive, exposing them to flu strains 100 times the lethal level.

It's a big step, but Shams says viruses like H1N1 are complex, able to mutate frequently.

"New ones are being generated, not daily but regularly in the nature because they borrow the genetical information one from the other one," he adds.

And while we are seeing the flu virus spread from Mexico to the U.S. and across Texas, Shams is quick to point out there is an upside.

"The good thing about this virus is this virus is susceptible to anti-viral and the worst could have been to have a virus that was resistant," he states.

Shams tells KLTV 7 he estimates the W.D.C. should be close to having the virus properties mapped out within a few weeks, helping those in the medical field better understand it.