Researchers identify why bird flu did not cause a pandemic

Bird flu has so far failed to cause a pandemic because at least two simultaneous genetic mutations in the virus are required before it can be transmitted readily from human to human, latest research suggests.

It is less likely than we thought that bird flu will cause a pandemic because it's far harder for it to infect the right cells (Photograph credit: SPL)
It is less likely than we thought that bird flu will cause a pandemic because it's far harder for it to infect the right cells (Photograph credit: SPL)

At present, H5 viruses can only infect one of the two main types of cell in the mouth and nose, a type of cell known as a ciliated cell.

In order for H5 to transmit from human to human, it would need to mutate to be able to infect the other, non-ciliated type of cell as well.

Lead researcher Professor Wendy Barclay, from the Division of Investigative Science at Imperial College London, said: ‘Our new research suggests that it is less likely than we thought that H5N1 will cause a pandemic, because it's far harder for it to infect the right cells.

‘The odds of it undergoing the kind of double mutation that would be needed are extremely low. However, viruses mutate all the time, so we shouldn't be complacent.'

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