We recently gave you an update on the latest information about bird flu. There's some good news from researchers who are working hard to create a vaccine against the H5N1 bird flu virus, which is the kind that attacks humans: It turns out that combining genes from H5N1 with genes from a common flu virus DOES NOT seem to create a deadly strain of flu.
Peter Aldhous reports in New Scientist that by itself, H5N1 meets two of three requirements for a virus that could lead to an epidemic, because it is easy to catch (but only directly from poultry, so far) and most human immune systems are unfamiliar with it and therefore have no defenses against it.
At CDC (Centers for Disease Control) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, researchers created flu viruses that contained a combination of H5N1 H3N2 proteins. H3N2 is the most common variety of human flu that has been found recently. They then injected ferrets with this combination. In most cases, when ferrets that are infected with ordinary flu viruses are placed in cages next to healthy ferrets, the virus usually passes easily from one ferret to another. But when ferrets were injected with this mixture, NEITHER virus was passed from one ferret to another. Scientists now think that the virus that caused the 1918 pandemic (which killed more than 40 million people) evolved through the mutation of a bird flu strain rather than through a combination of an animal and a human virus.
Art credit: freeimages.co.uk
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To learn more about bird flu, click here and here.
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