A new study released today should quell bird flu panic, or at least calm it down a bit. Turns out that avian flu viruses have a really tough time staying alive in human noses, where they'd need to hunker down and breed if they were going to spread through our species in a pandemic. According to the study, released by scientists at Imperial College London:
Avian influenza viruses do not spread extensively in cells at 32 degrees Celsius, the temperature inside the human nose. The researchers say this is probably because the viruses usually infect the guts of birds, which are warmer, at 40 degrees Celsius.
Professor Wendy Barclay, one of the authors of the study, added:
Bird viruses are out there all the time but they can only cause pandemics when they undergo certain changes. Our study gives vital clues about what kinds of changes would be needed in order for them to mutate and infect humans, potentially helping us to identify which viruses could lead to a pandemic.
So we're not exactly off the hook, given the rate at which viruses are known to mutate. But we also know exactly what kind of mutation they'd need: Something that would allow them to feel comfy in our noses.