Slight mutation in bird flu discovered on Sumatra island


Sun, Jun 25, 2006 - Page 5

A World Health Organization (WHO) investigation showed that the H5N1 virus mutated slightly in an Indonesian family cluster on Sumatra island, but bird flu experts insist it did not increase the possibility of a human pandemic.

The virus that infected eight members of a family last month -- killing seven of them -- appears to have slightly mutated in a 10-year-old boy, who is then suspected of passing the virus to his father, the WHO investigative report said.

It is the first evidence indicating that a person caught the virus from a human and then passed it on to another person, said Tim Uyeki, an epidemiologist from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said the H5N1 virus died with the father and did not pass outside the family.

"It stopped. It was dead end at that point," he said, stressing that viruses are always slightly changing and there was no reason to raise alarm.

Dr. William Schaffner, a bird flu expert at the Vanderbilt University, called the mutation "noteworthy but not worrisome." Generally it takes a series of mutations in a bird flu virus to raise the danger of a pandemic in humans, he said in a telephone interview.

Schaffner said it is remarkable that scientists were able to discover a mutation that occurred in a remote village in Indonesia. That's the result of intense surveillance linked with "21st-century laboratory virology," he said. "That's awesome."

The findings appeared in a report obtained by AP that was distributed in Jakarta attended by top bird flu experts.