Bird Flu Alarm

2006-01-12-Indications bird flu virus mutating

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-01-12-Indications bird flu virus mutating

LONDON (AFP) - One of two viruses taken from two fatal cases of bird flu in Turkey showed similar mutations to previous flu viruses in Hong Kong and Vietnam in recent years, British scientists announced.

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The British government-funded Medical Research Council (MRC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the analysis suggested the potentially deadly H5N1 strain is mutating towards a form adapted to humans.

The research revealed mutations from one case which have previously been seen in flu viruses from Hong Kong in 2003 and Vietnam in 2005, involving a protein that binds to receptors, or docking points, on the surfaces of cells.

John Skehel, director of the MRC's National Institute for Medical Research, and WHO said in a joint statement: "Research has indicated that the Hong Kong 2003 viruses preferred to bind to human cell receptors more than to avian (bird) receptors, and it is expected that the Turkish virus will also have this characteristic."

The Hong Kong and Vietnam viruses were "very closely related" to current H5N1 viruses in Turkey, and also viruses isolated at Qinghai Lake, western China, last year, the scientists added.

Qinghai Lake is a congregation point for migratory birds, raising fears that it could be a staging post for the spread of H5N1.

The gene sequences of the viruses indicated that they were sensitive to the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and amantadine, the scientists said.

Fears about the H5N1 strain spreading between humans -- and triggering a global pandemic with the loss of millions of lives -- were heightened last week when 18 people were infected with the virus in eastern Turkey.

Three of the 18, all children, died. The deaths and infections were the first outside Southeast Asia.


Understanding Avian Influenza