Deciphering The Flu Virus
Emmanuel Sales
Eric Hamber
Floor Location : S 183 H

Every year, millions get sick from the flu, and about 500,000 people worldwide die from influenza-related causes. Our defense against against the flu mainly comes from our seasonal flu vaccine, which is administered every year to defend us from the new flu strains that emerge every flu season.

This project explores the inner workings of the constant influenza epidemic, from the process by which the virus infects the human cell to the reasons for why the flu virus mutates and can thwart our immune system every year.

From the research, questions arise. Why is it that there are surprisingly more deaths for some years compared to others? For example, the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic killed more than any other flu strain in the past twenty or so years. Also, is there a better way to find the flu strains for use in the seasonal flu vaccine?

This project attempts to answer these questions in two experiments.

The first is an experiment that determines whether there is a relationship between the degree of mutation of the flu strain to the number of confirmed deaths it caused. From that experiment, it was determined that for two strains, H3N2 and H1N1, the relationship between degree of mutation and number of deaths caused can be approximated by a direct positive correlation.

The second is an experiment that attempts to utilize two strategies that try to predict whether or not a mutation is going to happen the following year, and generates the predicted protein composition of the next flu strain if there is. These are compared to how well the vaccine performed, the optimal result being that the prediction performs better than the vaccine. The results of the experiment showed that the vaccine still did better than both strategies. However, for some flu seasons, the developers of the vaccine had preemptive knowledge of the next flu strain would be, and when there was no preemptive knowledge, the strategies used in the experiment performed just as well as the vaccine if not better, so it is concluded that the strategies are worth looking into and modifying as a future direction.