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Bird Flu Becoming More Lethal

Posted - Jun. 29, 2004 at 1:20 p.m.



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MEMPHIS, Jun 29, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- A U.S. scientist working with the World Health Organization is warning bird flu is becoming more lethal and fertile, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Earlier this year a bird flu strain called H5N1 killed 23 people in east Asia -- the most in any year since the strain first emerged seven years ago.

Robert Webster, from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., said, however, the worst may be yet to come.

His team of U.S. and Chinese researchers have found strains of H5N1 can kill mice more quickly than before, perhaps because of the virus jumping from species to species.

H5N1 is also now able to reproduce in more parts of the body than before, he said.

The concern is that the virus will eventually accumulate enough genetic changes to become good at passing between humans. The worst case scenario is a mutation that would let bird flu combine with a human flu in someone's body to create a hybrid influenza as deadly as the bird strain and as contagious as a regular human strain.

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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