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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingThe latest strain of Avian flu has infected 116 people worldwide and killed at least 65. Dr. Kim Mulvihill explains how the threat is likely to evolve into something much worse.
Scientists have identified two variations. One is circulating in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. The second is percolating in Indonesia. People catch the virus from birds; it rarely spreads person-to-person. The concern is what happens when the virus takes up shop in humans.
David Schnurr: " I think we have a lot of reason for fear."
Today's report on the 1918 flu pandemic sheds new light on how one or both of the current bird flu subtypes could spiral out of control and kill hundreds of millions of people.
David Schnurr, Ph.D., California State Dept. of Health Services: "The development has been pretty interesting in that it hasn't followed exactly what we would have expected."
Dr. David Schnurr specializes in viruses for the state department of health services. He says the 1918 flu appears to have jumped directly from birds to humans, staying there for years before it turned deadly.
Dr. Schnurr: "We might be surprised that the virus that is present in birds right now might cross directly into humans and become established as a pandemic strain without undergoing exchange of genetic material with human or swine strains." ¤ In other words, scientists would expect a bird flu to exchange genetic material with a human flu in order to morph into a deadly strain in humans. It could go either way.
Dr. Schnurr: "This is an ongoing story."
To date the only way to treat humans infected with avian flu is with intensive care and the use of anti-virals. Dr. Carol Glaser heads up the state lab in Richmond and says vaccines for both strains are in the works because they don't know which strain will prove the most dangerous.
Carol Glaser, M.D., California State Dept. of Health Services: "They're watching to see which one might emerge, and try to be prepared for both. And there is no way of predicting so they're trying to make us as prepared as possible."
We already know that the bird flu can morph, that's how we came to have two different subtypes circulating in Asia. The real question now, is what will it do next.