Electron micrograph of H5N1 influenza virus particles.
The report appearing in yesterday's Milwaukee Journal -Sentinel was brief but had the impact of a blow to the solar plexus. Word, for word, it reported:
"Genetic analysis of the H5 N1 avian flu virus responsible for at least nine human deaths in China portrays a virus evolving to adapt to human cells, raising concern about its potential to spark a new global flu pandemic.
The collaborative study, conducted by a group led by Masato Tashiro of the Influenza Virus Research Center, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo, appears in the current edition of the journal Eurosurveillance. The group examined the genetic sequences of H7N9 isolates from four of the pathogen's human victims as well as samples derived from birds and the environs of a Shanghai market.
"The human isolates, but not the avian and environmental ones, have a protein mutation that allows for efficient growth in human cells and that also allows them to grow at a temperature that corresponds to the upper respiratory tract of humans, which is lower than you find in birds," Kawaoka, a leading expert on avian influenza, said in a news release from UW-Madison.
The findings, drawn from genetic sequences deposited by Chinese researchers into an international database, provide some of the first molecular clues about a worrisome new strain of bird flu, the first human cases of which were reported on March 31 by the-------
for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, the new virus has sickened at least 33 people, killing nine. Although it is too early to predict its potential to cause a pandemic, signs that the virus is adapting to mammalian and, in particular, human hosts are unmistakable, says Kawaoka. Chinese Center
The preceding ought to be enough to get any normal human's nerves on edge. Also, if unleashed in an outbreak against an essentially 'naked" (from immunity) populace, the results would be devastating. In 2003, world-renowned virologist Robert G. Webster published an article titled: "The world is teetering on the edge of a pandemic that could kill a large fraction of the human population" in American Scientist. He called for adequate resources to fight what he sees as a major world threat to possibly billions of lives.
Research suggests that currently circulating strains of H5N1 viruses are becoming more capable of causing disease (pathogenic) in animals than were earlier H5N1 viruses. One study found that ducks infected with H5N1 virus are now shedding more virus for longer periods without showing symptoms of illness. This finding has implications for the role of ducks in transmitting disease to other birds and possibly to humans as well. Additionally, other findings have documented H5N1 virus infection among pigs in China and Vietnam; H5N1 virus infection of cats (experimental infection of housecats in the Netherlands, isolation of H5N1 virus from domestic cats in Germany and Thailand, and detection of H5N1 viral RNA in domestic cats in Iraq and Austria); H5N1 virus infection of dogs (isolation of H5N1 virus from a domestic dog in Thailand); and isolation of H5N1 viruses from tigers and leopards at zoos in Thailand). In addition, H5N1 virus infection in a wild stone marten (a weasel-like mammal) was reported in
Germany and in a wild civet cat in . Avian influenza A (H5N1) virus strains that emerged in Vietnam Asia in 2003 continue to evolve and may adapt so that other mammals may be susceptible to it as well.
Highly pathogenic H5N1 in people can include:
• Fever and cough
• Acute respiratory distress
• Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
• Abdominal pain
• Respiratory failure
* Altered mental state
• Failure of multiple organs (e.g. kidney failure)
The other bit of news (from flu.gov) is that
People need to also grasp that even if an initial vaccine is successful, such virulent influenza outbreaks often come in waves. In the case of the Spanish flu there was a first relatively mild wave, then a much more deadly form (that incepted more cytokine storms). The flu virus also mutates so that a vaccine that may work for the initial H5N1 onslaught may not work for a later one. For a fairly good depiction of what could transpire, see the movie: 'Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America'. We are talking of so many dead that corpses have to be collected daily in the streets by garbage trucks, driven to landfills, stacked like cordwood and buried or set afire. We're also talking of massive dislocation of supply lines, supermarket shelves bare, and even the possibility of water, electricity output affected. As for hospitals....the floods of patients in every city and town will overwhelm them and their resources within days!
Having seen what my own wife suffered - barely able to breathe at times- with the H3N2 flu last December (written about in my Dec. 25 blog post) I don't want to see anything any worse! We may need to pare down the world's burgeoning populace- but not this way!