Tuesday November 19, 2019

Three Mutations if Occurred at Same Time Could Turn Bird Flu a Potential Pandemic: Experts

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Bird Flu
Health officers cull poultry at a wholesale market, as trade in live poultry is suspended after a spot check at a local street market revealed the presence of H7N9 bird flu virus, in Hong Kong June 7, 2016. VOA
  • The flu strain, known as H7N9 has infected at least 779 people in outbreaks in and around China
  • Mutations in three amino acids made the virus more able to bind to human cells, making the virus more dangerous to people
  • Wendy Barclay, a virologist and flu specialist, said the study’s findings were important in showing why H7N9 bird flu should be kept under intense surveillance

London, June 18, 2017: Scientists have identified three mutations that, if they occurred at the same time in nature, could turn a strain of bird flu now circulating in China into a potential pandemic virus that could spread among people.

The flu strain, known as H7N9, now mostly infects birds but it has infected at least 779 people in outbreaks in and around China, mainly related to poultry markets.

The World Health Organization said earlier this year that all bird flu viruses need constant monitoring, warning that their constantly changing nature makes them “a persistent and significant threat to public health.”

At the moment, the H7N9 virus does not have the capability to spread sustainably from person to person. But scientists are worried it could at any time mutate into a form that does.

To assess this risk, researchers led by James Paulson of the Scripps Research Institute in California looked at mutations that could potentially take place in the genome of the H7N9 virus.

They focused on the H7 hemagglutanin, a protein on the flu virus surface that allows it to latch onto host cells.

The team’s findings, published in the journal PLoS Pathogens on Thursday, showed that in laboratory tests, mutations in three amino acids made the virus more able to bind to human cells — suggesting these changes are key to making the virus more dangerous to people.

Scientists not directly involved in this study said its findings were important, but should not cause immediate alarm.

“This study will help us to monitor the risk posed by bird flu in a more informed way, and increasing our knowledge of which changes in bird flu viruses could be potentially dangerous will be very useful in surveillance,” said Fiona Culley, an expert in respiratory immunology at Imperial College London.

She noted that while “some of the individual mutations have been seen naturally, … these combinations of mutations have not,” and added: “The chances of all three occurring together is relatively low.”

Wendy Barclay, a virologist and flu specialist also at Imperial, said the study’s findings were important in showing why H7N9 bird flu should be kept under intense surveillance.

“These studies keep H7N9 virus high on the list of viruses we should be concerned about,” she said. “The more people infected, the higher the chance that the lethal combination of mutations could occur.” (VOA)

Next Story

WHO Demands Strict Regulations on Vaping Products

WHO says there should be a ban on the promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems to nonsmokers, pregnant women and youth

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WHO
The World Health Organization also known as WHO says it is disturbed that vaping devices continue to be marketed as products that are healthy and that can wean smokers off their nicotine addiction. Wikimedia Commons

The World Health Organization also called WHO is calling for stricter regulations on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes as more information comes to light about the potentially harmful impact of these products.

Health officials are increasingly worried about the risks posed by e-cigarettes as reported cases of deaths and illnesses from these devices spread from the United States to Europe and beyond. They see the recent death of a young man in Belgium and reports of vaping-related illnesses in the Philippines and other countries in the world as a call to action.

The World Health Organization says it is disturbed that vaping devices continue to be marketed as products that are healthy and that can wean smokers off their nicotine addiction.  WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier tells VOA these industry health claims are unproven.

“While these electronic nicotine delivery systems may be less toxic than conventional cigarettes, this does not make them harmless,” he said.  “They produce aerosols from the vapor that contain toxicants that can result in a range of significant pathological changes.  These ends pose health risks for nonsmokers, to minors, to pregnant women — all of those who should not use such systems.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed at least 42 deaths in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 2,100 illnesses related to vaping products.

WHO
The World Health Organization also called WHO is calling for stricter regulations on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes as more information comes to light about the potentially harmful impact of these products. Pixabay

Vaping is an extremely profitable growth industry.  The number of people using vaping devices has increased from 7 million in 2011 to 41 million in 2018.  Profits have nearly tripled, from $6.9 billion five years ago to more than $19 billion today.  Getting the tobacco industry to refrain from the sale of electronic smoking devices will be extremely difficult.

The World Health Organization says long-term studies of health implications of electronic nicotine devices should begin.  In the meantime, the U.N. health agency is issuing recommendations that in some ways mirror those enacted to control tobacco use.

ALSO READ: Smart Bulbs Can Steal Personal Information Through Hacking

WHO says there should be a ban on the promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems to nonsmokers, pregnant women and youth; measures should be taken to minimize the potential risks to users and others from these devices, and the tobacco industry should be prohibited from using unproven health claims to market vaping products.  (VOA)