Far above the Arctic Circle, seven Norwegian miners who died of the Spanish flu in 1918 are slated to add their tissues to characterizing the influenza virus strain of that pandemic.
In the works is a Canadian expedition that plans to travel late this year to the island of Spitzbergen, where the seven flu victims" bodies have been preserved for 80 years in the permafrost.
"The expedition has been agreed to at the highest level by the government of Norway, and in cooperation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control," pathologist Peter Lewin told BioWorld Today.
"What we have in mind," he added "is to exhume the bodies, and hopefully keep these specimens in the frozen state."
Lewin, who is on the staff of the Hospital for Sick Children In Toronto, said: "We"ll do lung and brain, the upper air passages, and various other tissues."
But Lewin, who styles himself a "medical archeologist," also cautioned: "I have always postulated that there is a possibility that these pathogens in the permafrost — influenza, a small RNA virus, and the large DNA virus of smallpox — may still be viable in these bodies."
He cited the "probability, that during the exhumation, accidental or otherwise, of these individuals who died of these pestilential diseases, the viruses may be resurrected. That's why I feel we should preserve some stocks of the smallpox virus, in Moscow or the CDC, so we can very rapidly produce vaccines against this disease." — David N. Leff