Scientists Link 1918 Influenza To Bird Flu
Two teams of federal and university scientists announced today that they had resurrected the 1918 influenza virus, the cause of one of history's most deadly epidemics, and had found that unlike the viruses that caused more recent flu pandemics of 1957 and 1968, the 1918 virus was actually a bird flu that jumped directly to humans.
The findings, the scientists say, reveal a small number of genetic changes that may explain why the virus was so lethal. The work also confirms the legitimacy of worries about the bird flu viruses that are now emerging in Asia.
But Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger, chief of molecular pathology department at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, notes that the bird flus have not yet spread from human to human. He hopes the 1918 virus will reveal what genetic changes can allow that to happen, helping scientists prevent a new pandemic before it starts.This research is not free of controversy, though. Some are questioning the wisdom of recreating and publishing the genetic sequence of the killer 1918 virus, considering the risk of an accidental or deliberate release.