Although influenza has been causing aches, pains and deaths for hundreds of years, it is one of the common illnesses that pose a serious public health threat.

Dr. Robert Sidwell, professor in the department of animal, dairy and veterinary science at Utah State University, has been awarded a research contract for approximately $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study potential anti-influenza virus drugs.Sidwell explained that the influenza virus is associated with a number of serious health problems, including pneumonia, croup and bronchitis.

"Twenty percent of the croup cases in hospitals are due to influenza," Sidwell said. "Influenza is especially serious in young children and geriatric patients who readily develop lung problems."

At the turn of the century, an influenza epidemic killed millions of people because little could be done to combat the influenza virus or the bacterial infections that generally follow a bout with influenza, Sidwell said.

Treatment is still a complicated business today because the virus is constantly changing and new strains must be identified before treatments can be developed, he explained.

The research at USU will make use of a model of measuring blood oxygen levels and will include evaluation of the impact of potential anti-influenza drugs on the immune system.

The research is part of the NIH ongoing program to discover and develop treatments for viral diseases that pose a great public health threat.

The five-year project will include research by Sidwell, in collaboration with USU researcher John Huffman, from the department of animal, dairy and veterinary science, and Professor Reed Warren of the USU department of biology.