Pandemic mutations in bird flu revealed

Jul 09, 2008

Scientists have discovered how bird flu adapts in patients, offering a new way to monitor the disease and prevent a pandemic, according to research published in the August issue of the Journal of General Virology. Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread through at least 45 countries in 3 continents.

Despite its ability to spread, it cannot be transmitted efficiently from human to human. This indicates it is not fully adapted to its new host species, the human. However, this new research reveals mutations in the virus that may result in a pandemic.

"The mutations needed for the emergence of a potential pandemic virus are likely to originate and be selected within infected human tissues," said Professor Dr Prasert Auewarakul from Mahidol University, Thailand. "We analyzed specific molecules called haemagglutinin on viruses derived from fatal human cases. Our results suggest new candidate mutations that may allow bird flu to adapt to humans."

Viruses with a high mutation rate such as influenza virus usually exist as a swarm of variants, each slightly different from the others. These are called H5N1 bird flu quasispecies. Professor Dr Auewarakul and his colleagues found that some mutations in the quasispecies were more frequent than others, which indicates they may be adaptive changes that make the virus more efficient at infecting humans. Most of these mutations were found in the area required for the virus to bind to the host cell.

"This study shows that the H5N1 virus is adapting each time it infects a human," said Professor Dr Auewarakul. "Such adaptations may lead to the emergence of a virus that can cause a pandemic. Our research highlights the need to control infection and transmission to humans to prevent further adaptations."

The research has provided genetic markers to help scientists monitor bird flu viruses with pandemic potential. This means they will be able to detect potentially dangerous strains and prevent a pandemic. The research also gives new insights into the mechanism of the genesis of a pandemic strain.

"Our approach could be used to screen for mutations with significant functional impact," said Professor Dr Auewarakul. "It is a new method of searching for changes in H5N1 viruses that are required for the emergence of a pandemic virus. We hope it will help us to prevent a pandemic in the future."

Source: Society for General Microbiology

Explore further: Experimental Ebola drug heals all monkeys in study (Update)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Most detailed picture ever of key part of hepatitis C

Nov 28, 2013

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have determined the most detailed picture yet of a crucial part of the hepatitis C virus, which the virus uses to infect liver cells. The new data reveal ...

Bats spreading deadly virus, scientist warns

Sep 09, 2013

(Phys.org) —It usually starts with a fever and headache, maybe some coughing and a disoriented feeling. Before long, inflammation of the veins, arteries and brain sets in, a seizure takes hold and you lose consciousness. ...

Recommended for you

Ebola in mind, US colleges screen some students

Aug 29, 2014

University students from West Africa may be subject to extra health checks when they arrive to study in the United States as administrators try to insulate their campuses from the worst Ebola outbreak in ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nigelthomas
not rated yet Jul 10, 2008
Good article. It's only a matter of time before the mutation can easily jump between human hosts. Hopefully it won't be as deadly as the current strains. Regardless, we need to keep this at the forefront of every business manager's mind. The threa won't go away so better start preparing.

Nigel Thomas
For free references and tools go to Bird Flu Manual Online ( http://www.birdflu-manual.com ) or, if you need more comprehensive tutorials and templates, check out Bird Flu D-I-Y eManual for business preparedness and survival ( http://www.contin...-emanual ).