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April 10, 2014
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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

4:39 p.m. ET
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Some employees of a Wisconsin vending machine company will be able to purchase food with the wave of a hand. Three Square Market announced over the weekend that it plans to implant RFID (Radio Frequency ID) microchips into the hands of willing employees. The chips are as small as a grain of rice and would essentially replace key cards, credit cards, and phone apps.

Implanted between the thumb and forefinger, the microchips would be able to unlock doors, pay for break room snacks, serve as business cards, and store medical information. Three Square Market expects at least 50 employees to voluntarily undergo the $300 procedure, for which the company will pick up the tab. The implanting will begin as soon as Aug. 1.

Three Square Market specializes in corporate vending machines it calls "micro markets," though its parent company, TW Vending, distributes supplies to jails and prisons, Fast Company notes. TW Vending's stock includes machines similar to the microchip-activated ones Three Square Market offers. "Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.," Todd Westby, the CEO of Three Square Market, wrote in a blog post. The company is claiming to be the first in the U.S. to implant these chips into employees. Elianna Spitzer

4:13 p.m. ET

In a speech ahead of Senate Republicans' Tuesday vote on health care, President Trump on Monday declared that ObamaCare "is death." "[Democrats] run out, they say, 'death, death, death,'" Trump said, referring to Democrats' concerns about Republicans' health-care plans. "Well, ObamaCare is death. That's the one that's death."

Trump urged Senate Republicans to fulfill their longstanding promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare, pushing specifically for a plan that replaces the health law immediately. "So far, Senate Republicans have not done their job in ending the ObamaCare nightmare," Trump said. He warned that "any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the ObamaCare nightmare."

Though Senate Republicans have confirmed a health-care vote for Tuesday afternoon, it's not yet clear even to senators which bill they will debate or whether there will be enough votes for the effort to succeed. Becca Stanek

2:48 p.m. ET
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GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold (Texas) blames the women of the party for Republicans' health-care impasse. In an interview that aired Friday on a local Texas radio station, Farenthold bemoaned the opposition of female senators — like Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) — to both the party's plans to repeal and replace ObamaCare and the later proposal to repeal ObamaCare without a replacement in hand.

"The fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me. … Some of the people that are opposed to this, they're some female senators from the Northeast," Farenthold said. He then declared that if it were "a guy from South Texas" instead of a woman opposing the health-care plans, he "might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style."

As a refresher, Burr shot and killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel. Becca Stanek

2:40 p.m. ET

The Democrats unveiled a brand new economic plan Monday, one intended to consolidate the party's message as one that favors the middle class. Titled "A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future," the plan is the Democrats' attempt to embrace a progressive agenda in the hopes that it will broaden the party's appeal.

"Democrats will show the country that we're the party on the side of working people," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Monday. Schumer specifically called out the antitrust laws that "allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care."

The Democrats' proposal details several specific sectors in which the party wants to increase competition to fight for the little guy. On the list? Craft breweries:

So much for Bud Light — Schumer is totally cheers-ing this new plan with an ice cold Right Proper Gingifer. Kimberly Alters

1:58 p.m. ET

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) revisited the congressional baseball practice shooting in his new ad for his Senate campaign. The 30-second spot, entitled "Second Amendment," kicks off with the sound of gunshots and people screaming "get down." "June 14: A Bernie Sanders supporter fires on Republican Congressmen," flashes across an otherwise black screen, as audio from the incident plays. "Mo Brooks gives his belt as a tourniquet to help the wounded."

The ad then flips from the incident in which a gunman fired at Republicans gathered for a morning baseball practice to the response of the "liberal media." A clip is played of Brooks, who was at the baseball practice, being asked whether the shooting changes his "views on the gun situation in America." "The second amendment, the right to bear arms, is to help ensure that we always have a republic. So, no, I'm not changing my position on any of the rights that we enjoy as Americans," Brooks says, as patriotic music begins to play.

Four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), were injured in the shooting. Scalise remains in serious condition.

Watch Brooks' ad below. Becca Stanek

1:40 p.m. ET

After a closed-door meeting Monday with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, delivered a brief statement outside of the White House. "Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so," Kushner said, echoing the contents of an 11-page statement he submitted to the House and Senate intelligence committees that was released earlier Monday. Kushner added that he has had "no improper contacts" and has "not relied on Russian funds."

Kushner also used the opportunity to insist that his father-in-law did not win the election because of a boost from the Russians. "Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won," Kushner said. "Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him."

Watch Kushner's statement below. Becca Stanek

12:45 p.m. ET

President Trump on Monday ordered Associated Press reporter Catherine Lucey to be "quiet" after she asked him a question about health care. Lucey was shouting out questions to Trump as he posed for a photo with White House interns.

Lucey's first question was whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions — whom Trump deemed "beleaguered" in a tweet earlier Monday — should resign. Trump responded by quite literally rolling his eyes. "They're not supposed to do that," he told the interns. The press had reportedly been "unexpectedly summoned" to observe the photo session.

Then, Lucey asked for an update on Senate Republicans' plan to repeal ObamaCare. "Quiet," Trump said, evoking laughter from the interns.

Watch it below. Becca Stanek

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