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Scientists Concerned about 'Super Flu'

Scientists Concerned about 'Super Flu'

Posted - Sep. 6, 2004 at 4:28 p.m.



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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingInfluenza virus circulates year round in humans, and a dangerous strain of bird flu keeps spreading. That has scientists concerned that these two viruses could overlap, mutate, and set off a deadly worldwide pandemic.

A deadly strain of avian flu sweeping through Asia has already killed 27 people, and the virus has led to the slaughter of tens of millions of chickens, ducks and birds.

Scott Harper, MD, Centers for Disease Control: “It’s really an unprecedented, as far as we know, occurrence that such a large geographic region would be affected with avian influenza.”

And the more widespread it is, the more likely avian flu will come into contact with and infect humans. That combination could trigger a influenza pandemic.

Dr. Scott Harper is an infectious disease specialist with the CDC. His concern is when a bird flu infects a person, that person may already be infected with a human flu virus.

Scott Harper, M.D.: “Some of the genetic material from the human virus could actually mix with the genetic material from the bird flu virus and in that case, you could then have a more efficient spread of the avian flu virus from person to person.”

The mix could result is a super strain of influenza that could spread like wildfire.

Scott Harper, M.D.: “Influenza tends to be more infectious than SARS, and so we would worry that this would potentially cause more widespread disease, more quickly, in many more countries with many more deaths."

The mixture and mutation of viruses are essential, but it doesn't have to necessarily occur within people. Dr. Harper says pigs are also susceptible to both human and bird flu viruses. The viruses can mix inside the pig.

Scott Harper, M.D.: “Then the pig could spread this new virus to people and then it would be spreading efficiently from person to person.”

Thanks to SARS and the anthrax scare, federal health officials have learned a lot, and they've released this report to prevent a pandemic of fear. Their plan details how the government would ration medications, restrict travel, close schools, impose quarantines, and manufacture vaccines.

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