Scientists at the CDC reported a project failure late last week that many researchers in the field were only too happy to see. They engineered genetic changes to see if they could make the deadly A-H5N1 virus more easily transmittable among people. It didn't work. That doesn't mean that the virus, which has claimed 134 lives, can't mutate into a virus that could trigger a human pandemic. But it does mean that a mutation probably won't happen easily.
Undertaking their work in a Biosafety Level 3 laboratory, the researchers set to work to determine if they could replicate a nightmare scenario in which someone with the human flu virus swaps genes with the avian flu virus and creates a lethal new disease that could wipe out millions of people. They created a hybrid virus with A-H3N2 and exposed ferrets--which are highly susceptible to human viruses--to the hybrid. That virus was not transmitted quickly among the animals. Scientists cautioned that while the research shows that any deadly mutations won't occur easily, many more hybrids need to be created in order to fully test the potential of a lethal mutation that could affect humans.
Catch up on avian flu issues:
- read this article in The New York Times