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Influenza Division Staff Win Two Charles C. Shepard Awards

June 14, 2018 – Two Influenza Division-authored papers have been recognized as best original research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or ATSDR, both of them winning Charles C. Shepard Awards. Four Shepard Awards are presented each year to the best original research published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal. There are awards for Assessment, Data Methods, Laboratory Science, and Prevention and Control.

“Estimates of global seasonal influenza-associated respiratory mortality: a modelling study” by A. Danielle Iuliano, et al won in the category of Assessment. Papers within this category characterize health, disease, conditions, or behaviors, and their determinants in communities or populations.

This study, published in The Lancet, used a new methodology to more accurately estimate the total number of global – and country specific – respiratory deaths associated with seasonal influenza. Previously, the World Health Organization suggested that between 250,000 and 500,000 people die annually from seasonal influenza; however, the methods used to make this calculation were not published. Iuliano and her team developed a model that improved the calculations of global seasonal influenza-related deaths using data from 1999 through 2015. This new model estimates that between 291,000 to 646,000 influenza-associated deaths may occur every year.

This estimate may be higher than previous estimates because this new model and formula account for additional factors (i.e. influenza death risks between countries, overall health of the country and access to health care), however, it may not capture the true burden of influenza-associated deaths and additional work in ongoing to estimate the impact of influenza on circulatory causes of death.

“Danielle’s findings are important because they suggest that influenza illness is associated with a high burden of respiratory deaths throughout the world,” said Eduard Azziz-Baumgartner, a medical officer epidemiologist with OID and co-author of the paper. “Such findings also suggest the potential value of influenza prevention and control programs.”

The second paper, “Influenza Virus Exploits Tunneling Nanotubes for Cell-to-Cell Spread” by Amrita Kumar, et al, won in the category of Laboratory Science. Laboratory Science papers describe the development and/or use of laboratory methods to solve problems of public health importance.

This study, published in Scientific Reports, highlights a novel route of intercellular communication, tunneling nanotubes, which the influenza virus exploits in order to spread from infected to uninfected cells. The report highlights how the flu virus could exploit this route during infection to evade antivirals and host neutralizing antibodies. These observations may help explain how influenza infection can still occur in people immune to influenza and the suboptimal effectiveness of antivirals.

These novel findings may have broad implications for other infectious and non-infectious diseases that should be explored further. The mechanism of spread through nanotubes could be exploited by other viral, bacterial, or protozoan pathogens to spread infection.

For more information about the Shepard Awards and past winners, visit the Office of the Associate Director for Science.