Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Latest Science Regarding The Avian Flu

Researchers continue to learn more about the virus that has the potential to wipe out large portions of the the world population:
The Wisconsin team investigated why the virus could not spread easily between humans despite the fact that it could replicate efficiently in human lungs.

Flu viruses infecting humans and birds are known to home in on slightly different versions of the same molecule, found on the surface of cells which line the respiratory tract.

The latest study found the version of the molecule targeted by human viruses was more prevalent on cells higher up in the airway.

The molecule targeted by bird viruses, on the other hand, tended to be found on cells deep within the lungs, in structures called alveoli.

Thus the bird flu virus tended to be buried so deep in the lungs that was unlikely to be spread by coughing or sneezing.

If the virus was to acquire the ability to infect cells higher up in the airway, it could take a crucial step towards causing a human pandemic, researchers believe.

The article goes on to explain why so many who have died thus far of bird flu were children, and what this fact means for our future abilities to handle the arrival of the H5N1 virus. Be sure to read the whole thing.