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Bird Flu Back in the News — What You Should Know

Scientists plan to resume research on a deadly flu virus, likely within the next few weeks.

Research into the deadly bird flu virus that was halted in January 2011 will likely start up again within the next few weeks, according to a health report by The New York Times

Plans to resume experiments with the virus are in place now that countries have adopted new rules to ensure safety. Research was suspended after two labs in the Netherlands and the U.S. reported they had created easier-to-spread versions of bird flu — by genetically manipulating the virus, researchers created a strain that became airborne and spread between ferrets. According to WebMD, ferrets are commonly used in studies on human flu viruses, as almost all of the viruses spread easily among the animals. Concerns were that terrorists might use the research information to create a bioweapons. 

Experiments in the United States, which, according to the New York Times, pays for much of the flu research both at home and abroad, will not yet resume, as new guidelines have not been finalized. An ABC News report says those guidelines should be completed within several weeks.

So far, the H5N1 virus has rarely spread from person to person, and people who have become ill have almost always been infected by poultry. But flu viruses mutate, and the fear has been that the virus will somehow become more contagious in humans.

CBS News reported Jan. 25 that three people in Cambodia had been infected by bird flu and two had died as a result. The cases are among the first reported in 2013. 

What else should you know about bird flu? 

  • According to WebMD, the H5N1 bird flu has never been detected in the U.S. While various strains of bird flu pop up in U.S. poultry from time to time, all affected poultry flocks are culled.
  • Unlike human flu bugs, H5N1 bird flu does not spread easily from person to person, and the very few cases of human-to-human transmission have been among people with exceptionally close contact. 
  • Humans don't catch the virus from eating fully cooked chicken or eggs.
  • As long as the bird flu virus doesn't change into a human flu virus, it won't spread far in people.

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