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Bird Flu: Back in the News

The great fear about bird flu is that the virus will mutate, so that it can pass between humans (the way regular flu does) and not just between poultry and people. A father in China has been diagnosed with bird flu that he probably caught from his sick son. But this MAY be because they share the same genes!

Researchers note that the other cases of suspected person-to-person transmission have also been between blood relatives, leading them to suspect that some people may have a genetic susceptibility to bird flu. BBC News quotes virology expert Wendy Barclay as saying, "The experience here reinforces the idea that there are still several barriers the virus must overcome before it acquires human transmissibility."

BBC quotes tropical disease expert Jeremy Farrar as saying that it's "just a matter of time" before the disease passes between people, but that does NOT mean that an epidemic is a "biological inevitability."

Humans catch a surprising number of diseases from othere species. Researchers have made a map of emerging infectious diseases, in order to predict where they're likely to strike next. It turns out that most of the diseases come from animals and global warming may change this map in the future.

Some of the diseases that started out in animals, then moved to humans are SARS, bird flu, ebola and West Nile. In BBC News, Mark Kinver quotes researcher Marc Levy as saying, "We are crowding wildlife into ever smaller areas, and human population is increasing. Where those two things meet, that is the recipe for something crossing over."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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