2005-10-06-Scientists Link Bird Flu to 1918 Killer Epidemic
The bird flu virus spreading through Asia may go through the same genetic changes that made the "Spanish flu" so virulent that it killed 50 million people across the world in 1918, researchers claim. They say the Spanish flu also likely originated in birds.
The team of U.S. scientists led by Jeffery K. Taubenberger, a molecular pathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, said the H5N1 viruses "might be acquiring the ability to adapt to humans, increasing their pandemic risk . . . there is a suggestion there may be some parallel evolution going on" between Spanish flu and avian influenza.
The team, which reconstructed the Spanish flu virus from genetic material, said that major genetic changes shown in the avian virus are very similar to those in the Spanish flu virus, warning bird flu should be taken more seriously.
But how far bird flu "has traveled down the evolutionary path to becoming a pandemic virus is unknown. Nor is it certain the worrisome strain will ever acquire all the genetic features necessary for rapid, worldwide spread," the Washington Post wrote Wednesday. "Nevertheless, the similarities between the Spanish flu virus of 1918 and H5N1 strain provides unusually concrete evidence of how dangerous the latter virus is."
The human strain of avian influenza has killed 74 people since it was first reported in Hong Kong in 1997.