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Renowned bird flu scientist speaks Friday

Dec. 4, 2007

KALAMAZOO--The emergence and control of the so-called bird flu is the topic of a discussion Friday, Dec. 7, on the campus of Western Michigan University.

Dr. Robert G. Webster, the Rose Marie Thomas chair in virology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., will speak from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in room 1718 of Wood Hall. The event, sponsored by the Michael K. Bach Visiting Lectureship, is open to the public free of charge.

Webster, who also is director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on the Ecology of Influenza Viruses in Lower Animals and Birds, is credited as the first scientist to find the link between human flu and bird flu.

Right now, H5N1, a type of avian influenza virus, has confined itself to birds. It can be transmitted from bird to human but only by direct contact with the droppings and excretions of infected birds.

But viruses mutate, and the big fear among the world's scientists is that the bird flu virus will join the human flu virus, change its genetic code and emerge as a new and deadly flu that can spread through the air from human to human. Webster and his team of scientists are working to find a way to beat the virus if it morphs.

For more information, contact the WMU Department of Biological Sciences at (269) 387-5600.

Media contact: Deanne Molinari, (269) 387-8400, deanne.molinari@wmich.edu

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