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'Bird' Flu May Be More Common in Humans, But Less Deadly
Date:2/23/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- The avian flu, which killed almost 60 percent of those known to be infected, actually struck many more people worldwide but didn't make them very sick, a new analysis finds.

The actual fatality rate of the H5N1 flu strain, therefore, is probably less than 60 percent considering that millions of people may have been infected over the past eight years, the researchers report.

The analysis results confirm earlier findings, said one expert, Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University. It's still not clear how fatal the strain actually is, but the research "emphasizes that H5N1 is not as deadly in humans as is being proposed by some people," said Siegel, author of Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic.

Siegel added that he doesn't think "this particular virus is going to mutate to go easily from human to human. That's extremely unlikely."

Scientists and public health officials have been sounding the alarm for years about the potential that the avian flu strain called H5N1 could become a major threat to humans. As of last December, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 573 cases since 2003; of those, 59 percent died.

Fears about the strain are so intense that a controversy erupted this year over whether scientists might help bioterrorists by publishing details about their research into bird flu. The WHO agreed last week to allow the research, which examines a mutated and more contagious form of bird flu, to be published.

In the new report, researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City launched a combined analysis of 20 studies that examined blood test results from than 12,500 people. They found that 1 percent to 2 percent of them had signs that they'd been infected with the H5N1 infection. Most of those said they hadn't rece
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