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New Seal Flu Could Pose Threat to Humans
Date:7/31/2012

TUESDAY, July 31 (HealthDay News) -- A new influenza strain found in New England harbor seals could potentially threaten people as well as wildlife, new research suggests.

Scientists cautioned that viruses like the newly discovered seal flu must be monitored in order to predict new strains and prevent a pandemic flu emerging from animals.

The report was published online July 31 in mBio.

"There is a concern that we have a new mammalian-transmissible virus to which humans haven't been exposed yet. It's a combination we haven't seen in disease before," report editor Dr. Anne Moscona, professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, said in a journal news release.

Another expert agreed that the flu strain could someday pose a threat to people.

"Infections that threaten wildlife and human lives remind us how our health is intermingled on this dynamic planet," said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, attending physician in infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. He said that while transmission via direct contact between humans and harbor seals is unlikely, the virus could find other ways to get to people.

"A dangerous virus infecting mammals increases the risk to us -- not by direct infection -- but by evolutionary development of even more riskier strains," Hirsch explained. For example, he said, the strain might pass from seals to birds, expand its presence in the environment and mutate in ways that make it easily passed to or between humans.

Scientists from several organizations, including Columbia University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, co-wrote the new report. They said that flu viruses found in mammals, such as the H1N1 "swine flu" that emerged in 2009, can put people's health at risk. The new seal flu, they warned, presents a similar threat to humans.

The researchers analyze
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