June 21st, 2012
02:00 PM ET

Mutant bird flu would be airborne, scientists say

Here's what it takes to make a deadly virus transmissible through the air: as few as five genetic mutations, according to a new study.

This research, published in the journal Science, is the second of two controversial studies to finally be released that examines how the H5N1 bird flu virus can be genetically altered and transmitted in mammals. Publication of both studies had been delayed many months due to fears that the research could be misused and become a bio-security threat.

Although these particular engineered forms of H5N1 have not been found in nature, the virus has potential to mutate enough such that it could become airborne.

H5N1 influenza can be deadly to people, but in its natural forms it does not easily transfer between people through respiratory droplets, as far as scientists know. The World Health Organization has recorded 355 humans deaths from it out of 602 cases, although some research has questioned this high mortality rate.

The journals Science and Nature had agreed to postpone the publication of the two studies related to the genetically altered virus.

In January, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended that this research be published without "methods or details" that terrorists might be able to use for biological weapons. The board also said the data could assist in preparing for a possible future outbreak, however.

Then in February, the World Health Organization convened a meeting, at which the recommendation was to publish the studies - just not yet. In April, the National Institutes of Health chimed in, also recommending publication.

The first study to be published on the topic was in the journal Nature, and was led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka. It was released in May.

The other research group, which authored the new study in Science, was led by Ron Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Both Kawaoka and Fouchier's groups created a mutated version of H5N1 that made it easier to transmit from mammal to mammal. They used ferrets because these animals are a good approximation for how viruses behave in humans.

Fouchier's study examines what mutations would be necessary to get the virus airborne. He and colleagues found five mutations consistent in a form of the H5N1 flu virus that could spread among ferrets through the air.

None of the ferrets died after developing the flu, the researchers said.

In a separate analysis, researchers looked at the likelihood that an airborne avian flu virus would evolve on its own from the H5N1 currently found in nature.

This study, also published in Science this week, looked at nearly 4,000 strains of influenza virus and frequently found two of the five mutations that appear to be involved in airborne transmission. These two mutations have been found in viruses from both birds and humans, although not in naturally-occurring H5N1 strains.

Derek Smith of the University of Cambridge, who co-authored that study, said at a press briefing that it's possible that only three mutations are necessary for the virus to evolve.

Smith's group also did mathematical modeling to look at whether the other mutations could evolve when the bird flu jumps to a human or other mammal.

"We find that it is possible for such a virus to evolve three mutations within a single host," Smith said during the press call.

If it takes four for five mutations to become airborne, that would be more difficult - but it's unclear just how likely it would be, Smith said.

While the Nature study looked at how a bird flu virus could become airborne through mutations and re-assortment with other viruses, the latest research in Science suggests mutations alone could do the trick.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters that the benefits from the Science study, in terms stimulating ideas and pursuing ways to understand the transmissibility, adaptability and pathogenesis of the virus, outweigh the risks that someone will use the data for nefarious purposes.

"Does that mean that there's no risk? No, of course not. I can't tell you at all
that there's no risk. But the benefits in my mind outweigh the risks," he said.

Making the research available generally will hopefully spark input on this topic from researchers in a wide variety of fields, he said.

It is technologically possible to create vaccine based on the genetic code of a flu virus strain including this one, researchers said. Several companies are already making H5N1 vaccines.

Research is ongoing to accelerate the amount of vaccine doses available by using adjuvants, which are agents that modify the effects of vaccines, Fauci said. There is also work ongoing into using computational sequencing to anticipate every possible influenza strain that could emerge, such that a databank could be established to prepare for the outbreak of any one of them, he said.

"Right now we're in a much, much better position than we were when we had vaccine available after the peak of the 2009 H1N1 two years ago," Fauci said.

What do you think about the decision to release research like this, in light of the concerns about terrorism? Tell us what you think in the comments.

soundoff (229 Responses)
  1. vách ngăn vệ sinh

    I know this site presents quality dependent articles or reviews and additional information, is there any other web page which presents such information in quality?

    April 7, 2021 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. purchase zithromax z-pak

    zithromycin https://zithromaxes.com/ zithromax classification

    April 12, 2021 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. vardenafil- vardenafil tablet, film coated

    vardenafil prices https://vegavardenafil.com/ vardenafil 20mg india manufacturer

    April 12, 2021 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. tadalafil

    tadalafil online https://elitadalafill.com/ tadalafil pills

    April 13, 2021 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. buy vardenafil over the counter online

    vardenafil prices https://vegavardenafil.com/ vardenafil

    April 14, 2021 at 02:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. alprostadil injection site

    alprostadil suppository uses https://alprostadildrugs.com/ alprostadil suppository demonstration video

    April 15, 2021 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. tadalafil pills

    40 mg tadalafil https://elitadalafill.com/ tadalafil gel

    April 17, 2021 at 22:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. counterfeit canadian drugs cialis

    canadian generic cialis 20mg https://canadacialisstore.com/ buy generic cialis, canadian

    April 21, 2021 at 13:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. rolex-watches

    633082 993536I gotta favorite this internet website it seems very beneficial . 368399

    April 22, 2021 at 02:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. how safe and reliable are canadian cialis

    how can i order cialis from a canadian pharmacy https://canadacialisstore.com/ cialis canadian pharmacy

    April 22, 2021 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. sildenafil generic otc

    sildenafil 20mg daily https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil 20 mg tablets online

    April 22, 2021 at 20:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Moon rocks weed

    305604 598692I truly enjoy looking by means of on this internet internet site , it holds superb content . 157993

    April 23, 2021 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. sildenafil 100mg for sale uk

    best online sildenafil prescription https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ buy generic sildenafil online

    April 25, 2021 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. erectile dysfunction drug

    erectile rings https://canadaerectiledysfunctionpills.com/ erectile dysfunction pills

    April 26, 2021 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. what is plaquenil used for

    order erectile dysfunction pills from india https://plaquenilx.com/ soma erectile dysfunction

    April 26, 2021 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. herbal erection pills

    male erectile complex https://canadaerectiledysfunctionpills.com/ reviews of erectile dysfunction treatment

    April 27, 2021 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. best viagra pills 25 mg canada pharmacy

    best canada viagra pills online https://canadaviagrastore.com/ best viagra pills 25 mg canada pharmacy

    April 28, 2021 at 12:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. priligy

    priligy generic priligy tablets uk

    April 28, 2021 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. avanafil

    buy avanafil uk avana 50 mg

    April 29, 2021 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. priligy

    buy priligy online dapoxetine india

    April 29, 2021 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. hydroxychloroquin

    chlorquine https://chloroquineorigin.com/ does chloroquine work

    May 1, 2021 at 01:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. canadian pills pharmacy

    canadian generic pills https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian pills online

    May 1, 2021 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. canadian pharmacy no perscription generic cialis

    canadian pharmacy cialis no prescription https://canadacialisstore.com/ cialis on line purches canadian pharmacy

    May 2, 2021 at 00:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. canadian generic pills

    canadian customs pills vitamins https://canadapillstorex.com/ canadian diet pills

    May 2, 2021 at 03:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. avana

    buy avanafil usa avanafil cost

    May 4, 2021 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Celestine Grzyb

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is basically a online game where you can do anything you want. Second life is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these second life authors and blogs


    May 10, 2021 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. YgWqdjanGB

    534981 367969This was an incredible post. Truly loved studying your website post. Your data was extremely informative and useful. I believe youll proceed posting and updating often. Searching forward to your subsequent one. 705296

    May 11, 2021 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Lindsay Kamimura

    Hola Chris, Jaaxy suena magnífico. Utilizo la herramienta de palabras clave de Wealthy Affiliate que no sólo está al mismo nivel que Jaaxy, sino que me ha proporcionado grandes palabras clave para los mensajes hasta ahora. Cada vez que escribo más contenido, uso palabras clave derivadas de la herramienta de palabras clave – Alto Tráfico / Palabras clave de baja competencia. ¿Puedo preguntar sobre Jaaxy ya que no puedo encontrar esta respuesta?


    May 13, 2021 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Wilfred Geres

    ¿Qué buscar? Simple Fleur – el ÚNICO parámetro del que debes preocuparte es la competencia. Si tu herramienta de palabras clave no tiene este parámetro, ¡estás jodido desde el principio! 


    May 13, 2021 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Skrota bil

    666386 56816 Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to uncover somebody with some original thoughts on this topic. realy thank you for starting this up. this website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality. helpful job for bringing something new to the internet! 689752

    May 15, 2021 at 07:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. https://shiatsu-web.com

    Best view i have ever seen !


    May 15, 2021 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Kalyn Rennie

    Hi Stacie, Well I’m really glad to hear that you got out of that opportunity pronto, those types of Facebook groups are complete poison as well! 


    May 16, 2021 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Christoper Gofman

    Thanks for your quick reply. I will like you to assist me with this whole neobux concept. If it works, I will share some refs with you. Here are some other questions. Don’t mind my grammar.Is it wise to extend referrals with points or the money you’ve earned? 30k points can buy you a golden membership and extending refs cost about 1900 points. What do you also think about recycling referrals with points?Do advertisers give special preference to golden members than standard? In my 1 month of using neobux, I’ve only seen some high value ads.What is the easiest way to get to level one in crowdflower. The mini job amount is very low and sometimes the jobs come in multi languages.I will be awaiting your quick reply as usual and pls don’t get bugged if I ask more questions?. Thanks in advance.


    May 16, 2021 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.