Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

TALKING EUROPE

José Bové, Candidate for the EU Commission presidency, Group of the Greens

Read more

WEB NEWS

NYPD's online campaign backfires

Read more

ENCORE!

Celebrating the Bard's birthday in Britain

Read more

THE INTERVIEW

Yuki Tatsumi, Senior Associate of the East Asia Program, Stimson Center

Read more

INSIDE THE AMERICAS

USA: Executions halted over drugs secrecy

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

An overly optimistic plan?

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

#NYPD Fail

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Soaring iPhone sales in China boost Apple earnings

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Tutu cautions ANC: South African peace laureate criticises ruling party

Read more

  • Ukraine troops launch assault on rebel stronghold, take checkpoint

    Read more

  • Afghan guard kills US doctors in Kabul hospital attack

    Read more

  • Platini: PSG in danger over Financial Fair Play rules

    Read more

  • Ségolène Royal denies banning cleavage at French ministry

    Read more

  • Palestinian unity deal stirs anger in Israel

    Read more

  • Video: Mayor in east Ukraine ready ‘to turn Slaviansk into battlefield’

    Read more

  • US would defend Japan in islands dispute, Obama says

    Read more

  • New far-right mayor moves to quash Paris region mosque

    Read more

  • US soldiers arrive in Poland as Ukraine crisis continues

    Read more

  • Fatah, Hamas agree to form Palestinian unity government

    Read more

  • Millions of Syrians desperately need aid, says UN

    Read more

  • Muslims in CAR pray for an escape route

    Read more

  • Madrid beat Bayern 1-0 in first leg of Champions League semis

    Read more

  • Britain's ex-PM Blair warns against spread of radical Islam

    Read more

  • Turkish PM offers condolences to descendants of Armenians killed in 1915

    Read more

  • Gay marriage, one year on: ‘French civilisation did not crumble’

    Read more

  • Colombian president reinstates firebrand Bogota mayor

    Read more

  • NYPD public relations campaign on Twitter goes awry

    Read more

  • In pictures: Violent protests erupt in Rio

    Read more

Health

Bird flu pandemic in humans just 'three mutations' away

©

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-06-22

Scientists warned on Thursday the H5N1 virus, more commonly known as bird flu, could mutate to cause a devastating human pandemic. Researchers said some strains were just three mutations away from making a 'potentially fatal' virus.

REUTERS - The world has yet to see a form of the deadly bird flu virus that could spread easily between people and cause a global outbreak - but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, scientists said on Thursday.

After studying 15 years of data on bird flu viruses in the wild, researchers said some strains were already part way along the road to acquiring a handful of mutations needed to change into a form that could cause a devastating human pandemic.
 
“The remaining... mutations could evolve in a single human host, making a virus evolving in nature a potentially serious threat,” Derek Smith of Britain’s University of Cambridge, who led the research, told reporters.
 
Currently, bird flu, or H5N1 avian flu, can be transmitted from birds to birds, and birds to humans, but not from humans to humans. When it does pass from birds to humans, it is usually fatal.  
 
Two earlier studies by researchers in the United States and Europe have found that with as few as five mutations, H5N1 flu can become transmissible in the air between mammals, including potentially from person to person.
 
Their work was highly controversial because they manipulated viruses in the lab to produce the new mutated strains.
 
Mutations are already out there
 
Until now, scientists were not sure whether it was possible these same mutations could evolve in nature.
 
But Smith’s co-researcher Colin Russell said their study, published on Thursday in the journal Science, showed it was.
 
“Viruses that have two of these mutations are already common in birds, meaning that there are viruses that might have to acquire only three additional mutations in a human to become airborne transmissible,” he told reporters.
 
So far, the H5N1 virus, which was first detected in Hong Kong in 1997, has infected tens of millions of ducks, geese, chickens and other birds. People who have been infected - so far there have been 606, of whom 357 have died - are mostly those who came into close contact with birds.
 
Last year, teams led by Ron Fouchier at Erasmus Medical Center and by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin managed to create laboratory-enhanced versions of the virus that spread like ordinary flu between mammals.
 
This type of research is seen as vital for scientists working to develop vaccines, diagnostic tests and anti-viral drugs that could be deployed in the event of an H5N1 pandemic.
 
But opponents said the work could be misused by terrorists or that the virus might somehow escape from the lab and spread.  An international row over the publication of the two papers blew up, leading to a temporary moratorium on such research.
 
"Active faultline"
 
Smith likened scientists’ current position on the likelihood of an H5N1 human pandemic to that of researchers trying to predict an earthquake.
 
“We now know that we’re living on a fault line,” he said.  “And what we have discovered in this working collaboration with Fouchier and Kawaoka is that it’s an active fault line. It really could do something. We’ve seen no fundamental hurdle to that happening.”
 
But he said it was impossible to assess the exact risk.  “We know it is in the realms of possibility ... and what needs to be done now is to assess the risk more accurately.”
 
In a second H5N1 study published as part of a series on bird flu in Science on Thursday, Rino Rappuoli, a researcher at the Swiss drugmaker Novartis’s vaccines and diagnostics unit in Italy, outlined how the world could better prepare for a potential bird flu pandemic.
 
Among the most important steps, he said, would be to immunise as many people as possible with existing H5N1 vaccines to prime their immune systems and reduce the severity of illness if a pandemic were to happen.
 
There was also a need to ensure manufacturers could make large quantities of a pandemic vaccine quickly by sharing strains and scientific knowledge swiftly across the world.
 

Date created : 2012-06-22

  • HEALTH

    US panel endorses drug to halt HIV transmission

    Read more

  • France

    Founder of faulty breast implant company released on bail

    Read more

  • NOBEL PRIZE

    Immunologists awarded Nobel Prize for medicine

    Read more

Comments

COMMENT(S)