The new bird flu virus that has killed at least one person in South China is genetically different from the avian flu strain that infected 18 people in Hong Kong and killed six of them in 1997. But, like the 1997 virus, the new strain does not appear to contain sequences from human flu viruses that would speed its spread from person to person, lessening fears that a lethal pandemic flu may be imminent.

"The bottom line is that we do not know enough about influenza viruses to predict which virus will be transmissible efficiently from human to human," Malik Peiris, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong who is studying the new virus, told The Scientist.

Peiris says he is reassured by the fact that the bird virus has not reassorted with a human influenza virus, which probably hampers its ability to infect people. "However, it is...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?