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Model of surface antigens of an influenza virus, Canberra, Australia, 1994

The influenza virus has antigens on its surface called haemagglutin and neuraminidase. They can change their shape in two processes known as drift and shift. In ‘drift’, small changes occur meaning that the antibodies which protect us cannot bind and destroy the virus. In ‘shift’ an entirely new virus is created to which no one has any immunity. This makes influenza a difficult virus to protect against. The model was made for William Graeme Laver, a virologist working on a treatment for influenza, to exhibit at the Royal Society in June 1994.

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Glossary: model - representation

Use for a scaled representation of an object or structure, usually three-dimensional. The item is often idealised or modified to make it conceptually easier to understand.

Glossary: antigen

A substance that stimulates an immune response when introduced into the body.

Glossary: virus

A tiny particle made up of DNA/RNA and a protein coat. Viruses infect animals, plants, and micro-organisms and cause many diseases, including the common cold, influenza, measles, chickenpox, AIDS, polio and rabies. Many viral diseases can be controlled by means of vaccines.

Glossary: influenza

A highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system. Common symptoms of the disease are chills and fever, sore throat, muscle pains, severe headache, coughing, weakness and general discomfort. In more serious cases, influenza may cause pneumonia, which can be fatal.