LONDON – Scientists have solved the genetic puzzle of how influenza A viruses – including the H5N1 bird flu – replicate inside cells, which could help to speed up the development of new drugs to avert a pandemic. As governments bolster efforts to halt the spread of avian flu which has killed 83 people since 2003, an international team of researchers has discovered that the flu virus infects cells by organizing its genetic material in a set of eight segments. “We’ve found that the influenza virus has a specific mechanism that permits it to package its genetic materials,” said Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka, of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, who headed the research team. “All influenza viruses have the same mechanism, including bird flu,” he added in an interview on Wednesday. Influenza A is the family of viruses responsible for seasonal flu as well pandemic strains such as the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed as many as 50 million people worldwide. Scientists fear H5N1 could cause the next pandemic if it mutates on its own or mixes with a human virus to form a strain that can spread easily from person to person. So far […]

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