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Avian flu review - N E W S F O C U S 1504 7 MARCH 2003 VOL...

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7 MARCH 2003 VOL 299 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org 1504 CREDIT:VINCENT YU/AP N E W S F O C U S An Avian Flu Jumps to People While researchers monitor U.S. pigs for potentially dangerous changes in swine influenza virus (see main text), recent events on the other side of the world have sounded an even more urgent alarm. Last month in Hong Kong, a 33-year-old man died and his 9-year-old son fell seriously ill after contracting an avian influenza virus from a source that remains mysterious. Initial genetic sequencing suggests that the virus may be de- scended from one found in wild birds. If so, it could be difficult to contain. In all previously known cases of an avian flu jumping to humans, the source is believed to have been poultry. But “this virus hasn’t been seen in domestic poultry,” says Robert Webster, direc- tor of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) collaborating lab- oratory on animal influenza at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. However, authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the virus came from chickens on a rel- ative’s farm in mainland China. Most flu viruses are adapted for a particular group of animals, although pigs can mix and match viruses from birds and humans. And on seemingly rare occasions, flu viruses have jumped the species barrier from other animals to humans. The last two human influenza pandemics, or worldwide flu epidemics, were caused by viruses that incorporated both human and avian flu genes. Because humans have no immunity to many strains of avian influenza, such
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