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Published October 08, 2009, 10:30 PM

Winnipeg Lab Leads H1N1 Research

The city of Winnipeg is ground zero for research into the H1-N1 flu virus. And it starts at the National Microbiology Lab, which is one of only two places in North America that can test for the virus on site.

By: Joel Porter, WDAZ

It's one of the largest and most sophisticated labs in North America, and it's less than 200 miles away from Grand Forks. The national microbiology lab in Winnipeg is at the forefront of the research into the H1N1 virus.

"We have two things, I think one is state-of-the-art high containment laboratories, we're the largest collection of level 3 labs in the country and the only level 4 categories in Canada, there are only about 17 or so in the world," Dr. Frank Plummer, who is the director general at the lab, says.

Dr. Plummer says the second aspect that sets them apart are the lab's scientists. Just months ago, many of them were working up to 17 hour days to help study the H1N1 specimens discovered in Mexico.

"These outbreaks are very high pressure events and we're under pressure to produce results as quickly as possible," Plummer says.

Plummer says even before the discovery of H1N1 this spring, the national microbiology lab has been preparing for a pandemic for 13 years.

"But there'll be demands on us to characterize viruses that have been perhaps unusual in some way, to look for mutations that might make the virus more severe, and we're preparing for a very busy fall and winter." Plummer says.

He says after studying the virus, the H1N1 strain has traits that can be devastating for those who become infected..

"Although the vast majority of cases are pretty mild, for a small percentage of people, less than half a percent of people, it causes a severe viral pneumonia which we haven't seen much before, those are the people that end up in the intensive care unit and some of them die." Plummer says.

While he's still waiting for the H1N1 to become widespread throughout Manitoba, Plummer says he advises anybody who's concerned about catching the virus to get vaccinated once it's available.

"The chances of you having an adverse event from the vaccine are much much less than the chances of a bad outcome if you get the H1N1 virus." Plummer says.