In a recent New York Times article, research has been put into actually genetically enhancing viruses, specifically avian flu, to become more lethal by increaing its transmission. This might sound crazy but the scientists argue that being able to produce a more lethal virus will enable the scientists to come up with a better way of preventing a future epidemic. Other people are afraid that the enhanced viruses could accidentaly get out of the laboratory or be stolen by terrorists to cause an epidemic. Whatever the argument is, it is important for scientists to be able to better understand viruses and their ability to become a pandemic or not. From what scientists know already, the main factors for a virus to be lethal are how the virus is transmitted, what cells the virus affects, and where it enters the body.
Two seperate groups have been working on the avian flu virus, a group at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and the other at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Ron Flouchier led the team at the lab in Rotterdam and they were able to modify the virus to transmit through the air for short distances to infect other animals, in this case ferrets because the flu behaves similarly to ferrets as it does to humans. Although they have begun to find ways to make the virus more transmissable, the number of modifications to the temperature the flu can withstand, the location where the virus attacks, and other factors to make the virus actually be threatening to humans is large. The avian flu has only infected 600 people since its discovery in 1997 and even though more than half of them died the chances of people actaully getting the flu is very low and there are vaccines for the flu.