USU Preparing for Bird Flu

USU Preparing for Bird Flu

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Ed Yeates ReportingThe Centers for Disease Control now fears an overseas bird flu virus called "H-5" could be the villain that triggers a killer pandemic in humans. Researchers across the country, including those here in Utah, are mobilizing in an all out effort to keep it from spreading.

Utah State microbiologists are already studying the SARS virus and will most likely soon add the "H-5" to their experiments.

Dr. Robert Sidwell, USU Microbiology: "It is a pretty scary virus. Once before, they were able to contain it by killing most of the birds in the Hong Kong area in 1997. But now, it's in Hong Kong, it's in other parts of China, it's in Cambodia, and it's in Vietnam."

Under contract with the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Robert Sidwell and his colleagues have already submitted plans to expand and upgrade current laboratory space on campus.

Dr. Robert Sidwell: "Part of our contract is to keep constant, to keep current with all of the most recent influenza viruses that are potential threats. So they are expecting us to get this virus and have it here and to start studies with it."

When a facility currently under construction is completed it will be what is called a BSL 3+ lab which means that people will be highly restricted coming in or out of these doors. Containment cubes, accessible now, will be off limits in the new lab. Researchers will dress in protective gear. Rooms will be protected with positive air pressure. Cameras will monitor credentialed researchers as they come and go around the clock. Access to the door will require both a combination code and fingerprint identification.

Inside, USU microbiologists will find out which anti-viral compounds will knock down, even kill H-5 - which already is mutating.

David Frame, USU Veterinary Science: "Once it breaks a barrier from going from human to human, that's kind of monumental because right now, most of them have been with humans in contact with the birds themselves."

David Frame is with another team, monitoring the Utah poultry industry. On a USU experimental farm turkeys are raised in total isolation, away from wild birds, just in case they're carrying any one of a variety of Avian flu viruses.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control expects the genes in the H-5 Avian virus will most likely evolve into a deadly pathogen for human to human transmission.

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