By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A new strain of bird flu has researchers rushing to find a vaccine.

Alex DeMetrick reports unlike earlier strains, this new one appears capable of mutating into a deadly pandemic.

This past spring in China, a new strain of bird flu surfaced. Though there are not a lot of cases, it’s the death toll that’s raised concern.

“There have been 135 cases and 44 deaths. So it’s about one-third of the people who have contracted this flu have died from it,” said Dr. James Campbell, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

A strain of swine flu in Mexico in 2009 raised worry of a pandemic, but it turned out milder than feared.

The latest bird flu has spread from one person to another and stopped.

But tests on ferrets found it easily transmissible between groups. And most worrisome, it has the genetic structure to mutate into something more contagious.

“And so all those things together make us worry it may become more transmissible person to person,” Campbell said.

In 2006, an earlier strain of bird flu had the University of Maryland studying possible vaccines.

Now it’s starting a new study, looking for 200 volunteers.

There’s financial compensation, and maybe a bit of confidence should this flu become a pandemic.

“God forbid something really bad happens, but maybe if have it, I can take care of other family members or friends or whoever might get sick. Somebody needs to be prepared,” said Dr. Staci Yuhasz, current volunteer.

If this virus does mutate into something easy for people to catch, “once it starts spreading it will get here very quickly. With air travel and easy transmissibility, we need to be prepared,” Campbell said.

The National Institutes of Health have made finding a vaccine for the new bird flu a top priority.

People interested in volunteering can call 410-706-6156. Maximum compensation for participating in the study is $790.


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