Feature

Health scare of the week: Could seal flu infect humans?

A mutant bird flu that killed more than 150 seals in New England last summer might be able to make the leap to humans.

A mutant bird flu that killed more than 150 seals in New England last summer might be able to make the leap to humans. Researchers at Columbia University have discovered that a virus known as H3N8, which normally infects only birds, has acquired 37 mutations that allow it to spread among seals and potentially to other mammals. “Whenever you get a virus that spills over from one species into another and causes disease, that is a significant concern,” researcher Simon Anthony tells DailyMail.co.uk. At least one of the seal flu’s mutations could allow it to target the human respiratory tract, and with a few more adaptations, “it may well start to move into humans,” says researcher W. Ian Lipkin. Scientists aren’t sure what effect H3N8 might have on people, but another bird flu, H5N1, has killed more than half of the some 600 people infected since 2003. HIV, SARS, and West Nile fever, Lipkin notes, are all “infectious diseases that originated in animals.”

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