Bird Flu Research Suspended3 min read
This week, research scientists from the University of Wisconsin and Erasmus University in the Netherlands announced that they were suspending research on new, more contagious bird flu strains for at least the next 60 days. The announcement was in response to growing concerns that the genetically engineered strains already developed by these virologists could get into the hands of bioterrorists and cause an unprecedented worldwide epidemic.
With a mortality rate approaching 60%, infection with the bird flu virus ranks as one of the most damaging strains of all time. The virus seems to be particularly harmful to otherwise healthy, young people who have limited immunity to other influenza A viruses. Human-to-human spread is almost unheard of, with the vast majority of cases on record attributable to very close contact with infected poultry. Scientists announced last month that they had genetically engineered strains that were readily transmissible among humans. There is currently no vaccine for the bird flu, and only two
medications — oseltamivir and zanamivir — have been shown to be effective in treating the infection. Symptoms include the typical constellation of fever, muscle aches, runny nose, headache, and cough. Patients who develop eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other complications are at greatest risk of succumbing to the infection. Epidemiologists all over the globe are watching carefully for strains of bird flu that evolve naturally to spread more easily from person to person. For more information about influenza pandemics, see Flu.gov. Photo by uafcde.