GOOD NEWS AND BAD….Scientists have analyzed the genome of the 1918 flu virus that killed 50 million people and have discovered that it was originally a bird flu that made the jump to humans. So that means my grandmother’s two sisters were both killed by a bird flu.

It also means we know for sure that bird flus ? like the H5N1 virus currently causing havoc in Asia ? can mutate to become transmissible by humans. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news:

Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger, chief of molecular pathology department at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, notes that the bird flus have not yet spread from human to human. He hopes the 1918 virus will reveal what genetic changes can allow that to happen, helping scientists prevent a new pandemic before it starts.

….”This is huge, huge, huge,” said John Oxford, a professor of virology at St. Bartholmew’s and the Royal London Hospital, who was not part of the research team. “It’s a huge breakthrough to be able to put a searchlight on a virus that killed 50 million people. I can’t think of anything bigger that’s happened in virology for many years.”

In other bird flu news, President Bush suggested yesterday that if a flu pandemic hit the United States he might use the Army to quarantine affected areas. Tyler Cowen suggests that would probably just make things worse.

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