Many of us tend to ignore these warnings, since they turned out to be a sort of false alarm last time. Asians get bird flu directly from the ducks and geese they keep in cages, before they’re ready to eat them. Cages of these birds can also be found in outdoor markets in many different Asian countries. What scientists worry about is if the bird flu virus can mutate so that it can be passed from person to person, the way swine flu is now.

Genetic analysis of the avian flu virus responsible for at least nine human deaths in China reveals a virus that is evolving to adapt to human cells, raising concern about its potential to spark a new global flu pandemic.

The first human cases were reported on March 31 by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, the new virus has sickened at least 33 people, killing nine.

Bird flu expert Yoshihiro Kawaoka says that the virus has "a protein mutation that allows for efficient growth in human cells and that also allows them to grow at a temperature that corresponds to the upper respiratory tract of humans, which is lower than you find in birds."

Will we see the return of birds falling out of the sky?

Kawaoka says that although it is too early to predict its potential to cause a pandemic, signs that the virus is adapting to human hosts are unmistakable. It may be time to unlock the huge stores of tamiflu, which were amassed by our government during the last bird flu scare.

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