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

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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.

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About The Author

Frank Gillingham, M.D. serves as Chief Medical Director for HTH Worldwide. Frank has led HTH Worldwide's international business development efforts in Europe and Canada and has been a guest speaker at international business conferences and has authored a series of articles on travel medicine, including pieces on travel information available on the Internet and the role of physicians working with travel insurers. Frank is a Board-Certified Internist and Emergency Medicine Specialist. He is also a private emergency physician in Southern California and a former emergency department director and member of the UCLA emergency department staff. Frank completed residency training at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, received his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania .

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