Scientists Find Key to What Could Make Bird Flu a Human Pandemic
By Brandon Keim 01.06.08 | 1:00 PM
Scientists have identified a key mechanism necessary for bird flu to morph from a rare but deadly infection into a pandemic that could kill millions of people.
MIT scientists reported in Sunday's issue of Nature Biotechnology that the shape of certain structures in the virus could be key to allowing it to easily pass from human to human. In birds, the shape of the structures match the shape of sugars in the animals' respiratory tracts, allowing the infection to easily latch onto the animals. In humans, those shapes don't match up -- but if the virus morphed so they did, it could lead to a pandemic.
"We’re like a sitting duck, waiting for an H5N1 virus that can attach to us," said Richard Cummings, an Emory University biochemist and influenza cell specialist who did not participat
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