Bird Flu Could Easily Become Current News Again
It was just a few years ago that bird flu was a topic of concern in science news. Now, a new study shows that the concern over the virus making the transition to mammals could occur with just five mutations. H5N1 avian influenza was tested previously on ferrets, leading to the assumption that the virus had the potential to turn into a pandemic virus. While the research was controversial, the virus has infected over 650 people throughout 15 countries and killed almost 60% of that number since it was first detected in humans in 2003. The lack of concern that this would turn into a widespread problem was that person-to-person transmission was not something that occurred easily.
Study results show that a minimum of five alterations in the viral genome are required to turn the virus into one that can infect ferrets through the air. The study was performed by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, of the Netherlands, and colleagues with the results reported in the science journal Cell.
These five mutations are to the virus’s replication machinery, as well as the protein used by the virus to latch onto the cells of the animal’s respiratory tract. An article printed in Science News further explained that although these five mutations would result in the virus changing into one that could be transmitted from human-to-human through the air, there are also other mutations that could have the same effect and result in a pandemic infection. The information obtained from the study will help researchers understand the types of mutations to look out for.