Avian flu and SARS rudely awoke the world to the possibility of a new pandemic. Could a seemingly more mundane bug now put the world to the test?
The swine flu virus that may have killed more than 80 people in Mexico and appears to have sickened hundreds more is still a mystery contagion. But this much is known: The virus is unusually made up of genetic material from avian, pig and human viruses; it can transmit from person to person; and in many people, it only triggers mild symptoms seen in garden-variety influenza.
The current virus is mainly sickening the young and the healthy, yet such bugs are notorious for their ability to evolve. “We are too early in our investigations to be able to address the lethality of the virus,” said Keiji Fukuda, interim assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, said Sunday. “Properties of flu viruses can change — they can go from mild to being more severe and can move from being more severe to less.”