Study will assess risk of mild bird flu strains becoming severe

A team of researchers is working to find ways to determine the risk that mild strains of bird flu will become more dangerous down the line.

The scientists’ study will focus on several types of bird flu viruses that aren’t presently categorized alongside severe strains, but which are linked to recent outbreaks of infections with severe symptoms and high death rates, and which pose a public health risk.

Researchers say the outcomes from the study could help identify risks associated with emerging strains so that those with high potential for disease can be managed appropriately. Additionally, the findings could contribute to global surveillance measures for flu, according to the announcement.

In the study, scientists will manipulate the RNA strains of bird flu in the lab to try to determine the genetic code linked to a risk of serious disease.

They’ll also investigate how these viruses interact with poultry and wild birds, so they can better assess the potential risks from viruses that pass between the two groups.

“Bird flu is a major challenge and concern for the poultry industry,” said Lonneke Vervelde, a professor at the Roslin Institute. “We know that mild H5 [and] H7 strains can become very dangerous, but it is also becoming clear that other mild strains are, to our surprise, becoming more virulent. It is critical that we seek to better understand the risks associated with these potentially harmful viruses.”