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Origins of Bird flu

Updated: Wednesday, December 08, 2021 3:17 PM EDT
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Bird Flu Origins

One question that gets asked quite a bit is where did Bird flu come from. The problem is that there really isn't a definitive answer, a variation of bird flu has probably been around almost since the dawn of human kind in one form or another. The first known avian influenza virus was identified in Italy in 1878 as a serious disease of chickens.

In Hong Kong 1997, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus was first documented, when it caused severe respiratory problems in 18 humans, of whom six died. A total culling of all chickens and removal of chicken meat from all markets in the area supposedly put a stop to the virus. Or so they thought. In February of 2003 another outbreak of H5N1 killed 1 person and sickened another in Hong Kong.

Recent research suggests that the Spanish flu of 1918 was a mutated form of the H1N1 virus, the name associated with the then current Bird Flu mutation .This research was conducted by two teams of scientists. One led by Sir John Skehel, director of the National Institute for Medical Research in London and another by Professor Ian Wilson of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.

They used a sample of lung tissue collected from the remains of an Inuit woman (Native Alaskan), who died during the 1918 Spanish flu and was found nearly 8 decades later in some Permafrost(Any rock or soil material that has remained below 32° F continuously for two or more years), and DNA samples from the remains of solders who died during World War I of the disease.

The two teams had analyzed the structure of the gene and discovered how subtle alterations to the shape of a protein molecule had allowed it to move from birds to humans with such devastating effects.

Since the Hong Kong strain of the bird flu in 1997 was reported, tens of millions of birds have died of H5N1 influenza and hundreds of millions of birds were culled (slaughtered and disposed of). All evidence suggests that if in fact the H5N1 virus were to mutate into a human transmittable disease, somewhere around 150,000,000 human deaths directly due to H5N1 infection (or two to three percent of the world's human population) would occur.

J. Thompson, January 15, 2005
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