Saturday 25 February 2012

Bird Flu More Prevalent, Less Deadly Than Expected

Jesse Emspak, LiveScience Contributor

The H5N1 influenza virus, also known as "bird flu," may well be more prevalent and less deadly than health officials had thought, according to a new study published online today (Feb. 23) by the journal Science.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 586 human cases of the H5N1 flu since 2003, and notes that as of Feb. 22, 59 percent (346 individuals) of those people had died.

But this 50-percent-plus mortality rate may be misleading, according to the new study led by Peter Palese, chairman of the department of microbiology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. That's because the cases reported by WHO include only people who were sick enough to go to a hospital and be laboratory-tested for the virus. For WHO, to get counted, a person must have an acute illness and fever within a week and test positive for exposure to the H5 protein that gives the virus part of its name.

Anyone sick enough to do that is more likely to die to begin with, and in countries where avian flu is present, access to health care and hospitals is spotty, according to Palese. Basically, there could be a lot more people out there who get the virus and either don't show symptoms or don't feel bad enough to see a doctor. 

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