Could Human-Transmissible Avian Flu Evolve?
It might be possible for human-to-human airborne transmissible avian H5N1 influenza viruses to evolve in nature, new research has found. The findings, from research led by Professor Derek Smith and Dr Colin Russell at the University of Cambridge, were published in the journal Science.
Currently, avian H5N1 influenza, also known as bird flu, can be transmitted from birds to humans, but not (or only very rarely) from human to human. However, two recent papers by Herfst, Fouchier and colleagues in Science and Imai, Kawaoka and colleagues in Nature reveal that potentially with as few as five mutations (amino acid substitutions), or four mutations plus reassortment, avian H5N1 can become airborne transmissible between mammals, and thus potentially among humans. However, until now, it was not known whether these mutations might evolve in nature.