From today’s “this is a bad idea” file comes the news from China that a team of researchers have created a new hybrid flu virus. If that isn’t fun enough, the new bug can go airborne and spread from mammal to mammal. Did no one see Contagion or 12 Monkeys, or read any of the ever-increasing number of terrifying nonfiction books about the potential for worldwide pandemics? Hell, much of the recent zombie paranoia ties back into fear of disease.
The scientists mixed genes from the H5N1 virus with those from the strain H1N1, which was responsible for the 2009 swine flu epidemic. This new concoction has been shown capable of spreading between guinea pigs.
The whole purpose behind this move is to show that, despite the hype surrounding the current outbreak of H7N9 bird flu in China, other avian flus such as H5N1 still pose a substantial threat of global pandemic. It is also possible that two different types of viruses could combine naturally. While there is no evidence that H5N1 and H1N1 have come together, this experiment shows that hybrids like this are a viable risk. These two strains overlap geographically and in the type of animals they infect. While H5N1 tends only to associate with its own kind, “the pandemic H1N1 strain seems to be particularly prone to reassortment.”