a flu virus shown as a 3 dimensional illustration with half of a blue-green sphere, covered in tiny orange spikes, with purple spiral strands inside the sphere.

MIT News recently shared new understandings of the flu viruses circulating in livestock, and their potential to spark pandemics in human populations:

Potential flu pandemic lurks
MIT study identifies influenza viruses circulating in pigs and birds that could pose a risk to humans.
Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
In the summer of 1968, a new strain of influenza appeared in Hong Kong. This strain, known as H3N2, spread around the globe and eventually killed an estimated 1 million people.
A new study from MIT reveals that there are many strains of H3N2 circulating in birds and pigs that are genetically similar to the 1968 strain and have the potential to generate a pandemic if they leap to humans. The researchers, led by Ram Sasisekharan, the Alfred H. Caspary Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT, also found that current flu vaccines might not offer protection against these strains.
“There are indeed examples of H3N2 that we need to be concerned about,” says Sasisekharan, who is also a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “From a pandemic-preparedness point of view, we should potentially start including some of these H3 strains as part of influenza vaccines.”
The study, which appears in the May 10 issue of the journal Scientific Reports, also offers the World Health Organization and public-health agencies’ insight into viral strains that should raise red flags if detected. Read more.

OCW has recently published a course, 7.346 Virus-host Interactions in Infectious Diseases, that can give you an even deeper understanding of how viruses do the damage they do.  Here’s the course description:

Co-evolution and adaptation between viruses and humans are often portrayed as a zero-sum biological arms race. Viruses enter host cells equipped with an array of mechanisms to evade the host defense responses and replicate. The rapid rate of mutation of viruses permits evolution of various methodologies for infection, which in turn drive development of non-specific but highly effective host mechanisms to restrict infection. This class will discuss the varied solutions each side has developed as a means for survival. We will use examples drawn from human disease-causing pathogens that contribute seriously to the global health burden, including HIV, influenza and dengue virus. Primary research papers will be discussed to help students learn to pose scientific questions and design and conduct experiments to answer the questions and critically interpret data.