Jun 19, 2017

Scientists find mutations that may let bird flu spread among humans

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

Scientists have identified mutations that could allow a lethal strain of bird flu to become more contagious among humans, according to a study in PLOS Pathogens.

Why it matters: The H7N9 strain of bird flu has killed at least a third of the estimated 1500 people it has infected in China since 2013 - and there has been a surge in cases this year. The strain currently doesn't pass easily between people and most cases have occurred after people come in contact with infected poultry. But public health officials are concerned about the potential for H7N9 to mutate into a contagious virus, like other flu viruses have in the past.

What they did: Scientists at the Scripps Institute made mutations to a protein called hemagglutinin that allows the virus to attach to host cells and found that different combinations of three changes in the protein allowed H7N9 to attach to cells found in humans' upper respiratory tract. If the virus evolved to have those mutations, it could theoretically then spread between people by coughing and sneezing, like human flu viruses.

Yes, but... The researchers only altered a fragment of the virus and studied the effect in isolated cells. To assess whether the changes actually yield a virus that can be transmitted, they would like to test them in ferrets (which are often used as a model for studying flu transmission in humans). But, there is currently a moratorium in the U.S. on "gain of function" research that gives a pathogen more capability to cause disease. NPR reports that could soon be lifted.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:45 p.m. ET: 5,763,122 — Total deaths: 358,235 — Total recoveries — 2,389,735Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:45 p.m. ET: 1,715,811 — Total deaths: 101,337 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. Public health: The mystery of coronavirus superspreaders.
  4. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  5. Education: Science fairs are going virtual, and some online elements may become permanent.
  6. Axios on HBO: Science fiction writers tell us how they see the coronavirus pandemic.
  7. 🏃‍♀️Sports: Boston Marathon canceled after initial postponement, asks runners to go virtual.
  8. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Minnesota activates National Guard amid fallout from George Floyd death

A portrait of George Floyd hangs on a street light pole in Minneapolis. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

George Floyd, 46, moved to Minnesota to improve his life and become his "best self," but instead, he is dead because of Minneapolis police.

The latest: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared a state of emergency and activated the state's National Guard in response to violent clashes over the past two days between police and protesters in the Twin Cities.

Trump signs executive order targeting protections for social media platforms

President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday designed to limit the legal protections that shield social media companies from liability for the content users post on their platforms.

What they're saying: "Currently, social media giants like Twitter receive an unprecedented liability shield based on the theory that they are a neutral platform, which they are not," Trump said in the Oval Office. "We are fed up with it. It is unfair, and it's been very unfair."