Bat flu? Ha, it's a thing of the past. It's time you start worrying about the bird flu, say the scientists. In as little as five mutations, a group of Dutch researchers were able to engineer a strain of the H5N1 flu that is airborne among mammals. If it were to become airborne, an avian bird flu pandemic would likely follow.
The manipulated strain was tested on ferrets, often used as proxies for humans. And according to virologist Ron Fouchier, "As few as five mutations, generated by passing the virus from ferret to ferret to ferret just 10 times, may be enough to allow the bug to infect new hosts through the air...we assume also in humans it would only take a low number of transmission events for these mutations to accumulate."
So how much time do we have before hazmat suits and bottled water become currency?
Well probably a lot, considering no one really knows how long a mutation like this could take. While these findings prove that a deadly transformation is possible, they don't prove a whole lot else. According to researcher Derek Smith, "It really is real, but we just don't know how real yet. What we know from our study is that it's active and it could go off."
[Via LA Times]