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it's mutating!


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Bird Flu Mutation Of Concern, Experts Say

By Daniel Williams and Alan Sipress

Washington Post Foreign Service

Thursday, January 12, 2006; Page A12


ISTANBUL, Jan. 11 -- Preliminary tests show that the strain of bird flu virus that has stricken at least 15 people in Turkey has evolved in a way that could make it somewhat more hazardous to human beings, although it still lacks the capacity to be passed easily from person to person, international health officials said Wednesday.


The analysis, based on the sequencing of one of the virus's genes, suggests that at least some of the H5N1 bird flu virus here carries a change in one of its proteins, according to Michael L. Perdue of the World Health Organization. That protein is what lets the virus attach to cells and penetrate them.


"It's a little concerning because the virus is still trying new things in its evolution," said Perdue, who is overseeing the agency's response to the Turkish outbreak from WHO headquarters in Geneva.


Influenza experts are studying the apparent change to determine its significance, Perdue said. A spokesman for Britain's Medical Research Council, which is involved in the research, said it would take a few days to confirm the preliminary findings.


The experts say they believe the genetic change could make it easier for bird flu to pass from chickens to people. If the virus were to eventually gain the capacity to be passed easily from person to person, it could trigger a global epidemic.


Nancy J. Cox, who heads the influenza branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said the change was found in one sample of H5N1 isolated from a Turkish child who recently died of the infection. The hemagglutinin protein, which the virus uses to attach to cells of the respiratory tract, had an alteration not usually seen in avian influenza viruses. Other incremental changes in the virus have been seen in China and Vietnam since outbreaks began in 2003.


Experts from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned that the virus could become permanently entrenched in Turkey, thereby increasing its risk to people and the chance it could evolve further. "The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 could become endemic in Turkey," the organization said in a statement.


The virus has spread across 30 of Turkey's 81 provinces, from the far east to the Mediterranean coast, and has sparked a frantic effort to stem the disease by killing infected poultry. Even in cosmopolitan Istanbul, bird catchers for the Agriculture Ministry are rounding up fowl raised in the outskirts of the city, gassing them to death and burying them in mass graves.

Perdue noted that the Spanish influenza of 1918, which caused an estimated 40 million deaths worldwide, began as an ordinary bird virus but gradually evolved into a global human killer through a series of these incremental changes. s. [/b]

Edited by dmarc117
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I had a thread about this the other day and it scares teh bejesus out of me. Look how many people the garden variety flu kills every year. This could get really ugly. Like I said before if I live thru it I am going to retire.

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