H5N1 bird flu cases more common than thought: study

February 23, 2012

Bird flu is believed to be a rare disease that kills more than half of the people it infects, but a US study out Thursday suggests it may be more common and less lethal than previously thought.

The research could help soothe concerns about the potential for a deadly pandemic that may kill many millions of people, sparked by the recent lab creation of a mutant that can pass between mammals.

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York analyzed 20 previous international studies that tested the blood of nearly 13,000 participants worldwide, according to the study in the .

They found that between one and two percent of those tested showed evidence of a prior H5N1 infection, meaning millions of people may have been infected around the globe.

The World Health Organization's figures currently show just 573 cases in 15 countries since 2003, with 58.6 percent of those resulting in death.

The researchers said the WHO may be overlooking cases by focusing only on hospitalizations and severe illnesses, and recommended a new approach to calculating the true number of bird .

The findings could also mean that the death rate from bird flu is underestimated, largely because many of the people who get sick from it live in rural farming areas where medical care may be difficult to come by.

"We suggest that further investigation, on a large scale and by a standardized approach, is warranted to better estimate the total number of H5N1 infections that have occurred in humans," the authors wrote.

Researchers in the Netherlands and the United States have sparked international alarm with lab research that was successful in creating a mutant form of bird flu that was found to be transmissible among ferrets.

US have urged major science journals to publish only heavily edited forms of the studies in order to prevent the data from falling into terrorists' hands.

However, an international group of experts meeting at WHO headquarters in Geneva last week decided that the studies should eventually be published in full, but that a further risk assessment is needed before that can happen.

More information: "Seroevidence for H5N1 Influenza Virus Infections in Humans: A Meta-Analysis," by T.T. Wang; M.K. Parides; P. Palese at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, NY. Science (2012).

Related Stories

WHO 'deeply concerned' by mutant bird flu

December 31, 2011

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was "deeply concerned" about research into whether the H5N1 flu virus could be made more transmissible between humans after mutant strains were produced in labs.

Scientists debate bird flu studies at WHO

February 16, 2012

Scientists met behind closed doors in Geneva Thursday to discuss whether controversial research on a mutant form of bird flu capable of being spread among humans can be made public.

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Musashi
not rated yet Feb 23, 2012
What, no one is buying Tamiflu anymore?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.