| Canada sequences swine flu virus|
|Canadian scientists have completed the full genetic sequencing of the H1N1 swine flu virus, which officials say will help in better understanding the outbreak and developing a vaccine.|
Scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada's microbiology lab cracked the genetic makeup of samples from Mexico and two Canadian provinces, says Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
Preliminary analysis found the trio of samples "do not differ significantly at the genetic level," she says.
"This is the first complete sequencing of the H1N1 flu virus and it's vitally important to our understanding of this outbreak," says Aglukkaq. "This is a world first."
The respiratory illness causes symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches or pain, lack of appetite, coughing and sore throat. Some people have also reported vomiting and diarrhoea.
Canada currently has the third highest number of cases of swine flu after the United States and Mexico, which has been at the epicenter of the outbreak.
Dr Frank Plummer, Scientific Director General of the National Microbiology Laboratory, says it took less than a week for scientists working around the clock to map or decode the virus.
The discovery will help health authorities pinpoint the origin of the virus, how its spreads and how it changes over time, "giving us the knowledge that we need to fight the H1N1 flu virus," he says.
However, the near-identical genetic makeup of the samples from Mexico, as well as Canada's Nova Scotia and Ontario provinces, raises another key question: why were cases in Mexico more severe than elsewhere?
The number of deaths in Mexico connected to swine flu stands at 42, while two deaths have been confirmed in the United States.
In Canada, 165 cases have been identified so far, but no one has died.
The World Health Organisation says the number of people confirmed to have been infected with the swine flu virus worldwide is 1516.
The Canadian lab work "appears to suggest that there's nothing at the genetic level that differentiates this virus that we've got from Mexico and those from Nova Scotia and Ontario that explains apparent differences in disease severity between Mexico and Canada and the United States," says Plummer.
"That's one of the big questions that everybody's been asking," he says.
"So part of the answer is that it's likely not the virus itself that is explaining the differential and severity of disease between Mexico and the rest of North America."