- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mexican drug lords, anti-immigration activists, crafty Republicans and greedy drug companies have all been cited by an imaginative public as causes for the pandemic.

Blame it on mystery pigs, though. And there’s no bioterrorism involved.

British scientists used extensive computer-enhanced genetic analysis to confirm that the H1N1 virus was not engineered in a test tube and that the flu originated in undetermined “swine lineage” years ago.

“We were able to reconstruct the origins and time scale of this new pandemic,” said Oliver Pybus, a zoologist with Oxford University. “Our results show that this strain has been circulating among pigs, possibly among multiple continents, for many years prior to its transmission to humans.”

With a team of microbiologists from the University of Edinburgh, Mr. Pybus found wide gaps in “genetic surveillance” of the virus. The findings suggested that the unusual mix of genetic material in H1N1 - it also includes bird and human flu - occurred years ago, which led them to conclude that it was not created.

“The multiple genetic ancestry of H1N1 is not indicative of an artificial origin,” the study said.

While there appears not to be a conspiracy afoot, there is still some mystery associated with swine flu, which has surfaced in all 50 states, with close to 18,000 confirmed cases and 45 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We show that it was derived from several viruses circulating in swine, and that the initial transmission to humans occurred several months before recognition of the outbreak. Furthermore, the unsampled history of the epidemic means that the nature and location of the genetically closest swine viruses reveal little about the immediate origin of the epidemic,” the study said.

The study was published this week in the latest issue of Nature, an academic publication.

Researchers from the CDC, Columbia University and other academic institutions and agencies have also released inconclusive findings about the origins of H1N1 since the first case of swine flu was identified in mid-April, afflicting a 5-year-old Mexican boy dubbed “patient zero.”

Short on information and long on adjectives and alarmist reporting, reports on swine flu dominated news in the immediate aftermath, even topping attention to President Obama’s first 100 days. By the end of April, the stock market was affected by “swine flu panic” and the global political blame games started - including disagreements among several world health agencies over what to call the illness.

Conspiracies, meanwhile, multiplied. Among the many notions that continue to circulate are these two, gleaned from a top-10 list assembled by KXAN, an NBC radio affiliate in Austin, Texas.

“Left-wing conspiratorial-minded crusaders blame the Republicans in U.S. Congress for cutting ‘pandemic preparedness’ funds out of Obama’s economic stimulus package,” the list said.

Another item was: “Left with no other options and with Democrats moving forward on legalizing illegals, anti-immigration forces engineered the swine flu so the United States would close the borders once and for all.”

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