In a concerning development, scientists have discovered that the bird flu strain responsible for the recent death of an 11-year-old girl in Cambodia has mutated, making it more adept at infecting human cells, Sky News reported Wednesday.
Scientists warn about alarming situation of mutated bird flu virus spreading among people
The scientists on the ground who made this discovery are calling for it to be treated with the utmost concern, as there are already some indications that the mutated virus is spreading among people.
The young girl from Prey Veng province became the first fatality of the H5N1 virus this year, and her father has also tested positive for the virus, although he remains asymptomatic.
The team at the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia decoded the genetic sequence of the virus that caused the girl’s death. It was led by Dr Erik Karlsson, an expert in emerging diseases. They found that the virus was different from the one found in birds.
“There are some indications that this virus has gone through a human,” Karlsson told Sky News.
“Just getting into a new host allows those one or two viruses in that cloud to survive better and become the dominant population.”
He added: “Something may be happening here in Cambodia and something may be happening on the other side of the world in South America. But we don’t really know what could cause the problem tomorrow.”
Karlsson says we should take the threat seriously
However, Dr Karlsson cautioned that this did not mean that the threat should be taken any less seriously.
Currently, bird flu has difficulty spreading between humans because it lacks the necessary mutations to bind to receptors in close proximity to the lungs or nasal passages.
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it was increasing its preparedness for a pandemic in response to this threat. The agency stated that it had several vaccine and drug candidates in development.
National testing capacity is also being increased in case the H5N1 virus strain spreads to humans, according to DailyMail.
In the UK, health authorities have already begun creating models of various scenarios for a bird flu pandemic as a precautionary measure.