KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Slight Mutations To Bird Flu Virus Would Make It Easier To Spread Between Humans

Right now, it's not easy for humans to pass the virus to each other. And scientists aren't bracing themselves for the next pandemic quite yet. “[W]e’ve got to be careful that we separate the elegance of the science and the likelihood" of it happening, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Stat: Changes To Bird Flu Virus Could Make Human Transmission More Likely
The H7N9 bird flu virus has influenza scientists on edge, due to an unexpected surge of human infections — hundreds of cases — caused by the virus this spring. Some new scientific findings aren’t likely to ratchet down those concerns. Scientists at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif., reported Thursday that the accumulation of several mutations in the main gene on the virus’s surface may be able to give H7N9 the ability to spread like human flu viruses do, passing from person to person through coughing and sneezing. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the journal PLOS Pathogens. (Branswell, 6/15)

NPR: Small Genetic Tweaks Could Transform This Bird Flu Into A Human Pandemic
Public health officials have been worried about this bird flu virus, called H7N9, because it's known to have infected more than 1,500 people — and killed 40 percent of them. So far, unlike other strains that more commonly infect humans, this deadly virus does not spread easily between people. The fear is that if it mutates in a way that lets it spread more easily, the virus will sweep around the globe and take a heavy toll, because people's immune systems haven't ever been exposed to this type of flu before. Past pandemics caused by novel flu viruses jumping from animals or birds into people have killed millions. (Greenfieldboyce, 6/15)

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