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The new H1N1 influenza virus bears a disturbing resemblance to the virus strain that caused the 1918 flu pandemic, with a greater ability to infect the lungs than common seasonal flu viruses, researchers reported on Monday.
Tests in several animals confirmed other studies that have shown the new swine flu strain can spread beyond the upper respiratory tract to go deep into the lungs -- making it more likely to cause pneumonia, the international team said.
"There is a misunderstanding about this virus," he said in a statement. "There is clear evidence the virus is different than seasonal influenza."
Writing in the journal Nature, Kawaoka and colleagues noted that the ability to infect the lungs is a characteristic of other pandemic viruses, especially the 1918 virus, which is estimated to have killed between 40 million and 100 million people.
Saying the new H1N1 virus is "unstoppable", the World Health Organization gave drug makers a full go-ahead to manufacture vaccines against the pandemic influenza strain on Monday and said healthcare workers should be the first to get one.
Every country will need to vaccinate citizens against the swine flu virus and must choose who else would get priority after nurses, doctors and technicians, said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research.
Several reports showed the new virus attacks people differently than seasonal flu -- affecting younger people, the severely obese and seemingly healthy adults, and causing disease deep in the lungs.