Deadly Virus Epidemics

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Study: Bad Diets May Breed Deadlier Viruses
Reuters Jun 8 2001  Poor nutrition leads to mutations that create more dangerous forms of the influenza virus and may contribute to newly virulent outbreaks of viral epidemics ranging from the common cold to AIDS and Ebola hemorrhagic fever
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Reuters), university researchers said on Friday
Deficiencies of selenium allowed the human influenza virus to mutate into more virulent forms in mice, and a similar mutation is likely to occur in people, researchers said in a study in the FASEB Journal, published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
"Once the mutations have occurred, even mice with normal nutrition are more susceptible to the newly virulent strain," said researcher Melinda Beck of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Poor nutritional status may contribute to the emergence of new viral strains and might promote epidemics."
In the study, groups of mice with normal and selenium-deficient diets were exposed to Influenza A Bangkok, a mild strain of human influenza virus. Although researchers had expected the malnourished mice to be sicker than the well-fed ones, they confirmed that the virus also mutated to a greater degree in these mice.

Selenium, which is found in meat and grains like wheat and rice, is a component of an anti-oxidant enzyme that helps the body fight off infections. Most people in developed countries would not need to supplement their diet to maintain adequate levels of the mineral, the researchers said.
"It's in everyone's best interest to make sure that populations are well-fed -- both ethically and morally, and for public health concerns," Beck said. "It's a two-sided coin. More virulent (viral) strains will affect healthy populations as well."
The study focused on the flu virus, which hospitalizes more than 100,000 people each year in the United States alone. The research also confirmed earlier studies into the causes of mutations of a virus, Coxsackie B3, linked to a heart disease known as Keshan disease.
The disease, once found in China among children and women of childbearing age with diets low in selenium, was largely eradicated by dietary supplements, the researchers said.