Avian flu virus

Avian flu virus

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Credit: VICTOR HABBICK VISIONS/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Avian flu virus. Conceptual image of an avian influenza (bird flu) virus. Each virus consists of a core of RNA (ribonucleic acid) genetic material surrounded by a protein coat. Embedded in the coat are surface proteins (spikes). There are two types of surface protein, haemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N), and each exists in several subtypes. Both surface proteins are associated with the pathogenicity of a virus. Haemagglutinin binds to host cells, allowing the virus to enter them and replicate. Neuraminidase allows the new particles to exit the host after replication. The virus that is currently endemic in birds is H5N1. It can be spread to humans by inhaling the faeces of infected birds, and can be fatal. It is feared it could mutate into a form able to be transmitted from human to human, potentially leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

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