Biology Department Hosts Lecture On Influenza

April 19, 2006

by Frank Raczkiewicz

An infectious disease expert will speak about the history of influenza and what the future may hold during a lecture on Friday on the Baylor University campus.

Dr. Scott Lea, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the former director of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, will be the featured speaker at this year's Davidson Lectures, hosted by Baylor's biology department. The biology department also will hold its annual Awards Night before the lecture. The lecture and awards ceremony, which are both free and open to the public, starts at 7 p.m. Friday, April 21, in room B.110 of the Baylor Sciences Building.

Lea's lecture, "Influenza: Past and Future," will explore the influenza virus and how the virus has evolved, biologically, through the years. Lea will begin with the flu pandemics in the 1890s and how it shaped society. The lecture also will explore what the future impact of the avian flu, or bird flu, viruses may have on humanity and the world.

There are several strains of the avian flu. The viruses occur naturally in birds, with most birds carrying the virus in their intestines, although most do not get sick from them. However once a bird becomes infected, it is very contagious.

Dr. Bill Hillis, distinguished professor of biology at Baylor, said the more deadly strain of the bird flu, H5N1, presents the biggest hurdle to humans. Hillis said most likely in the near future, the bird flu strain will cross-infect with the human influenza strain in a third-party animal like a pig. What will emerge is a new influenza strain that could be fatal to some people.

"This is something we should all be aware of," Hillis said. "This is something we don't have antibodies for or any immune response to and we are already expecting it to be a world-wide pandemic like we had back in 1919."

At the awards ceremony before the lecture, more than 20 Baylor biology students will be recognized for their "outstanding academic performance" in biology. Awards and scholarships that will be presented include the Eugene Crowder Memorial Scholarship and the Cornelia Marschall Smith Award. The department also will recognize biology students completing research or thesis projects.

The Davidson Lecture series is endowed by Dr. Floyd Davidson and his wife Lorene. Davidson served as a Baylor biology faculty member from 1946-97. He served as the department chair for more than 30 years during that time.

For more information, contact Bill Hillis at (254) 710-2091.

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