November 5, 2008- New research shows that raccoons – called the "Typhoid Marys"' of disease by the study's lead author – can catch and spread both human and avian strains of flu.
Virologist Jeffrey Hall found that blood samples taken from raccoons in a variety of parts of the United States tested positive for antibodies to various avian flu viruses.
So Hall and some colleagues tried infecting captured raccoons with human and avian flu viruses, and then exposed healthy animals to the ones they deliberately infected.
Testing showed the infected animals gave off flu viruses, though they didn't seem to be visibly sick.
And one of the healthy raccoons placed near the sick animals also caught the bug.
Hall, who is with the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Centre in Madison, Wis., says the fact raccoons can be infected with both bird and human flu viruses suggests the animals could play a role in generating and spreading new flu viruses.
The study will be published in the December issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
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