The World so far has been lucky in not seeing a widely-spread pandemic caused by the deadly bird flu virus that can transmit in the air and between people. That is no way to ascertain that it won’t happen in the future, say scientists.
After studying the bird flu virus exhaustively for over 15 years, researchers say there are already certain strains, which with a few mutations could cause wide-spread damage in humans. The current H5N1 flu is transmitted between birds and humans or between only birds. The virus cannot transmit between two human beings. However, the cases where they were transmitted between birds to humans have been fatal.
Two earlier studies published along similar lines revealed that with as few as five mutations, the deadly H5N1 flu could spread between mammals, including human to human. The study was highly critiqued because various aspects of the viruses were tampered with to create new mutated strains.
There have been no indications until now, if these mutations were actually possible or if they could evolve, but Colin Russell, who studied the research with Derek Smith confirmed the possibility. “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 said
The H5N1 virus, which was first detected in Hong Kong in 1997 and has till date affected millions of different bird types including ducks, geese and chickens. Out of the 606 Human beings we who were affected, 357 have died.
Mr. Smith likened the case to predicting earthquakes – “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.”
Although there is no fool proof plan to follow against the possibility of a pandemic, researchers said the first step should be to get everybody vaccinated with the existing H5N1 vaccine, which could help build an immune system that could prevent the rapid spread of the strain if it were to break out.