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August 28, 2007

Thirteen is the unlucky number

Via the Globe and Mail, a Reuters story by Maggie Fox on the St. Jude's study: Bird flu not yet ready for prime time. Excerpt:

Researchers have found some of the changes that a flu virus needs to become a deadly epidemic strain, and noted the H5N1 avian influenza virus has so far made only a few of them.

They said Tuesday their study can help scientists watch for the mutations most likely to make H5N1 a global threat.

David Finkelstein of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and colleagues looked at H5N1 virus samples from people who had been infected.

They found none were anywhere near as mutated as flu viruses that caused the three most recent pandemics, notably the 1918 "Spanish flu" that killed millions worldwide.

Writing in the Journal of Virology, Dr. Finkelstein's team said they identified 32 clear-cut changes in influenza viruses that differentiated a human flu from a bird flu.

Even when H5N1 viruses infected people, each one had made one or two of these changes at the most, Dr. Finkelstein said.

"We think they need to get to 13 to be truly dangerous," Dr. Finkelstein said in a telephone interview. "We never saw anything that approached the 13 that we saw in the Spanish flu."

Posted by dymaxion at August 28, 2007 09:33 PM

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