Are humans next?

Published: Wednesday 15 February 2006

Agenetic mutation of h5 n1, the bird flu virus, caused the death of two people in Turkey in early January, according to a collaborating institute of the World Health Organization (who). uk's National Institute for Medical Research in London, which conducted an analysis of the virus, said genetic mutations could make h5n1 develop greater affinity for humans than for birds. This would increase the chances of bird flu being transmitted from one person to another, the institute's researchers added.

So far, who has released details of only one of the mutations found in the viruses. The genetic change results in a substitution of one amino acid by another, at a specific position in a viral protein. This mutation has earlier been observed twice -- in Hong Kong in 2003 and in Vietnam in 2005.

However, researchers say that many more mutations would probably be necessary before the avian flu virus becomes capable of sparking a full-blown human pandemic.

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