Currently Circulating Avian Flu Viruses Have The Genetic Ingredients To Form A Virus With The Capacity To Kill Tens Of Millions Across The Globe

Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with Spanish influenza in a hospital ward at Camp Funston. The 1918 pandemic was one of history’s most devastating outbreaks of disease, resulting in an estimated 40 million deaths. Credit: U.S. Army / Chris Carrington / June 12th, 2014

Researchers have found that the avian flu viruses currently circulating have all the genetic material they need to morph into a virus similar to the 1918-1920 ‘Spanish Flu’ that killed an estimated 40 million people around the world. The eight genes required to allow the emergence of the killer virus has all been found in the gene pool of the currently known avian influenza viruses.

The research term used reverse genetics to arrive at their conclusion: ”there are gene pools in nature that have the potential to cause a severe pandemic in the future,”
The research was conducted in high containment units with full biosafety equipment due to the possible consequences of an accidental release of the virus.

The migratory patterns of birds mean that we will never be entirely sure that a transmissible form of avian flu has not made its way to our shores. The constant genetic mixing and recombination of genetic material means it is more like not a matter of if, but of when we will face the challenge that could wipe out a sizable proportion of the worlds population.