Thursday, June 29, 2006
Avian Flu Mutates But Doesn't Spread
A genetic change in the bird flu virus allowed it to spread directly from human-to human, according to several media reports last Friday, June 23. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) official was the source in both an Associated Press and Bloomberg story.
The WHO's investigation detailed last month's H5N1 outbreak in an Indonesian family of eight - the largest cluster of human infection to date - to prove that virus was moving from human to human. Seven of the family members died. The WHO speculates that limited human-to-human transmission has occurred with other family clusters, but this is the first time that they've proven it.
Despite the severity of the outbreak and mutation of the virus, U.S. experts did not think this change would increase the pandemic threat, according to the AP report. Viruses are always changing slightly, the source said, and the virus stopped with the infected family.
So, months later, the virus is still killing an alarming number of those infected, but it has yet to turn into a pandemic. It changed slightly but did not mutate to the highly contagious form that health officials dread.