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Volume 14, Number 2—February 2008
Another Dimension

A Rondelay (Without Cadenza) By The Virion Of Influenza

Edwin D. Kilbourne

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Now you have me―sucrose-banded,
Enveloped and negative-stranded
Spiked and cleaved and slightly dented
Into pieces eight, segmented―
Without mercy I’ve been strained
Through filters―then been bromelained, and
Torn apart by each detergent
With a haste unseemly, urgent―
All my helices displayed
Just to show you how I’m made.
My polypeptides have been mapped
My hemagglutinin unwrapped―
All my sequences are clear―
All the way from Arg to Ser.
With techniques sharp and newly honed
My very genes have now been cloned―
Transplanted to an alien host
Wherein my evanescent ghost
As solitary as an elf
Has managed to express myself.
And scientists have labored nights
To probe my antigenic sites
Some fresh from school with new diplomas
(Aided by their hybridomas)
Scramble up trimeric slopes
Counting all my epitopes
And every Ph.D. or pupil
Utterly devoid of scruple
Mates me with complete abandon―
Asks, then, why my genes are random
Can I kiss and never tell
When genotyped upon a gel?
Which, if inspected with acuity
Will document my promiscuity―
Must you write, in fat reports
How flagrantly I reassort?
No boundaries have my misbehavin’
Horsey set or duck or avian―
In other moments less sublime
You’ve put my perils before swine!
And yet in 1981
Despite the work that has been done
The epidemics come and go
As regular as winter snow.
And people cough and people die
And all of you still wonder why.
I’m so perverse and ever mutable
And so eternally unscrutable.
But think about just what you’d do
If there were really
No more flu!

Dr Kilbourne has spent most of his professional lifetime, beginning in 1948, on the study of influenza. During his tenure at 5 medical institutions, he has contributed particularly to discoveries that have facilitated vaccine development. As an avocation, he has published light verse and essays that have appeared in a number of nonmedical periodicals, including Saturday Review; some of his works have been collected recently in book form in Strategies of Sex. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Association of American Physicians, and the American Philosophical Society, among other honorary societies. He may be contacted by email:


Cite This Article

DOI: 10.3201/eid1402.ad1402

Courtesy of the Author. Published in Genetic Variation among Influenza Viruses. DP Nayak, editor. New York: Academic Press, Inc.; 1981.

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Table of Contents – Volume 14, Number 2—February 2008

Page created: July 21, 2010
Page updated: July 21, 2010
Page reviewed: July 21, 2010
The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by authors contributing to this journal do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors' affiliated institutions. Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by any of the groups named above.