Bird Flu: Just a Few Mutations Away From a Potential Pandemic

Bird Flu: Just a Few Mutations Away From a Potential Pandemic?

Bird Flu: Just a Few Mutations Away From a Potential Pandemic?

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June 22 2012 3:27 PM

Bird Flu: Just a Few Mutations Away From a Potential Pandemic?

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A government veterinarian worker sprays anti-bird flu disinfectant over birds and fowls at Medan city market in North Sumatra province on January 26, 2012.

Photo by SUTANTA ADITYA/AFP/Getty Images

Did you forget about your fear of Bird Flu? It’s about to be back.

In an article published in Science this week, an international team of scientists describe how, in an experiment with a population of ferrets, they were able to mutate the H5N1 virus to become transmissible through the air in just 10 generations of the pathogen. The paper goes on to say there are already Avian Flu strains in existence that are just three mutations away from human-to-human infection. Even worse—those three mutations could very well evolve in just one human host, making the possibility of a Bird Flu pandemic an imminent threat.

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There is some good news. While the infectious disease can cause serious illness and death in humans, ferrets that inhaled the mutant virus didn't die from the infection. So at least as a bioweapon, airborne Avian Flu is a bust. Talk about cold comfort.

Video by Paca Thomas.

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.