Monday, 25 June 2012

Could Bird Flu Turn Deadly?

by Ross Watkins

(source: latimes.com)
I remember a few years ago there was a lot of fuss about bird flu and how the world was at risk from a serious epidemic. As a few years passed, the world forgot about bird flu as it seemed not to cause much of a problem. In fact there have only been aound 330 estimated deaths since 2003.
However, recently a very worrying thought has worried scientists. Up until now the virus could only be exchanged by close contact but they are concerned that the H5N1 virus could one day mutate into a form that could be spread between humans, transmitted through the air via coughs and sneezes. This, they fear, could cause an epidemic which could kill tens of millions around the world.
A group of scientists wanted to know what would be required to enable the H5N1 virus to mutate into a form that could be transmitted from person to person through the air. The team of scientists have recently compared the genetic structure of the bird flu virus with those responsible for earlier human flu pandemics. The researchers found five key differences, which they reasoned could be the mutations required for airborne transmission of the virus.
The possibility of the virus to become airborne has raised another concern: namely, that terrorists could use the results and information in the journals to create bio weapons.  

H5N1 (Bird Flu)
(bioquell.com)
The scientists who carried out the research, considered suggestions as to how the results could be redacted in the journals but distributed to the researchers who urgently needed the information. However, they concluded such a system was unworkable. The issue was first brought up by the US government back in December 2011 and they asked for the publication of the paper on the virus to be redacted or even banned. However, the scientists complained, saying that others needed to see the results to help develop a vaccine to the H5N1 virus.
A variant of the H5N1 virus appeared in China and Vietnam in August last year. It did not go global but it showed that the virus is mutating and that it could mutate into a very serious disease. Have the scientists discovered the latest doomsday virus? Only time will tell if the virus will mutate and become a serious risk to the heath of the world. But for now, at least, we are safe.


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