All it would take is five gene mutations of the H5N1 avian influenza virus to potentially create havoc on a global scale. Dutch researchers are reporting that if those mutations happen, the virus would become transmissible via coughing or sneezing, just like regular flu viruses. Currently, most cases of H5N1 arise after a person has had contact with sick or dead infected poultry.
To give an idea of how deadly the avian flu virus is, scientists at one point stopped conducting research on H5N1 over concerns that in the wrong hands it could be used as a biological weapon by terrorists. Of the 650 people infected since H5N1 was first identified in Hong Kong 17 years ago, 60 percent died because of the disease.
Health officials have feared that H5N1 would evolve, but they are not sure if the virus is likely to mutate outside of a laboratory. "The biggest unknown is whether the viruses are likely to gain the critical mutations naturally," says Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. "If they can appear readily, then it is very worrisome. If not, then there's still a major hurdle that these viruses have to get over to become human-transmissible."
During the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Cell, researchers used ferrets as stand-ins for humans. They sprayed an altered version of the H5N1 virus into a ferret's nose, then put it in a special cage with a ferret who had not been exposed. The cage was constructed to allow shared airflow without direct contact, and when the healthy ferret exhibited signs of the flu (loss of appetite and energy, ruffled fur) they knew the virus had spread through the air. Read more about the study and its findings at the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia
The final Republican presidential debate before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary kicks off Saturday at 8 p.m. EST in Manchester, New Hampshire. The debate hosted by ABC News marks the first since Monday's Iowa caucuses. Participating are Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Candidates Jim Gilmore and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina did not make the cut.
Catch the full debate livestream below or at ABCNews.com. Becca Stanek
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced executive orders Saturday intended to ban LGBT conversion therapy in the state, BuzzFeed News reports.
Both public and private insurers are banned from reimbursing the therapy, which aims to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, for minors. And facilities funded, licensed, or operated by New York will not be allowed to offer conversion therapy to minors.
"We will not allow the misguided and the intolerant to punish LGBT young people for simply being who they are," Cuomo said in a statement.
Don't panic, but Twitter might shake up your reverse chronological feed as soon as next week, BuzzFeed News reported Friday. They're already testing a new feature — an algorithm designed to put tweets you want to see near the top of your feed — with a small number of users.
There's reason to believe the switch, which would look a lot like your Facebook feed's out-of-order posts, will be optional:
Sources at Twitter tell me algorithms are strictly opt in.
— Josh Sternberg (@joshsternberg) February 6, 2016
Twitter declined to comment on feed changes. Julie Kliegman
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is in the middle of dealing with a crisis in Flint, where lead pipes have contaminated the drinking water. While addressing a grave concern in an impoverished city, Snyder celebrated his wife's birthday with quite an upscale-looking cake from an Ann Arbor bakery, MLive reports:
— Liz Day (@LizDDay) February 6, 2016
Interesting choice of optics. Julie Kliegman
MSNBC pundit Melissa Harris-Perry called out the Democratic Party on Saturday for a lack of diversity in an "anemic" candidate pool.
"I would argue that for me, Thursday night, watching Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — we are in New Hampshire — and our party is so anemic. We are down to two candidates, right?" Harris-Perry said. "Say what you want to say about the mad house going on on the Republican side."
For Harris-Perry, the primary field bears some resemblance to a certain other much talked about national event: "It's whiter than the Oscars up in here." Julie Kliegman
You may or may not be excited for football, but chances are you're pretty amped about the food associated with Super Bowl Sunday.
Here are some striking numbers courtesy of ABC News regarding what U.S. viewers are expected to wolf down as the Denver Broncos face the Carolina Panthers:
12 million — Americans watching from restaurants and bars
48 million — takeout and deliver orders
139.4 million — pounds of avocados
1.3 billion — chicken wings, a 3 percent increase over 2015
$15.5 billion — total Super Bowl spending
Happy eating. Julie Kliegman
Saturday would've marked Babe Ruth's 121st birthday. To honor The Great Bambino, relive the glory of his first-ever New York Times profile. It's from way back in 1915, and it has some real gems:
— NYT Archives (@NYTArchives) February 6, 2016
The paper of record described the soon-to-be-record-setting slugger as "peculiar" and "built like a bale of cotton."
"What the Yanks evidently need are some peculiar left-handed pitchers," the profile went on to say, to counter Ruth, who then pitched for the rival Boston Red Sox.
Either that, or perhaps they just needed to make the trade of the century. Julie Kliegman