Bird flu is a killer from the skies

Bird flu probably came from outer space, a top UK scientist has told me.
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe believes the germs were carried here by a comet from deep in the solar system.
Microbes inside dust from the comet hit the atmosphere and were driven down by flares from the Sun.
They then fell to the ground inside raindrops.
Professor Wickramasinghe, of Cardiff University, says the cosmic particles reacted with ordinary flu – causing them to mutate into the killer HN51 bug.
Professor Wickramasinghe, Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, predicted six years ago that a flu pandemic would follow intense storms on the Sun around the turn of the millennium.
He said: “We looked at the record of past pandemics and they seemed to come a short time after a peak in solar activity.
“That is certainly what happened throughout the 20th century and we believe it happened too in the centuries before.”
He added: “I have not departed from the view that despite all that is being said of mutations that cause major changes of viral sequences, the crucial jumps occur due to causes external to the Earth.
“A cometary source of bacterial and viral genes remains a strong possibility.”
The professor says the Earth is surrounded by clouds of space dust cast off by countless passing comets.
Around a ton of microbes to Earth from space each day, the professor believes. He says they are able to survive both the harsh conditions in space and entry into the atmosphere.
Professor Wickramasinghe has studied previous global epidemics, including the flu pandemic of 1918 that killed 50million people worldwide.
He said: “Our researches led to a stark, yet inescapable conclusion – at the very least some component of the infective agent responsible fell directly through the skies.”
He says the comet theory explains why outbreaks spread so quickly across the Earth – they have been carried by different clumps of the dust.
Professor Wickramasinghe says the problem is greater for the H5N1 virus because infected birds could be breathing out the disase as they fly overhead.
He said: “As new cases of bird flu turn up at our doorstep, the appearance of streams of migrating birds in our skies must fill us with a sense of foreboding.
“Over thousands of miles, several billion migrating birds inhale and recycle large volumes of air.
“If the birds are incubating the dreaded H5N1 virus, it is possible that vast numbers of viral particles will be discharged into the atmosphere.
“Some would fall in raindrops, and others rise in updrafts into the stratosphere to be carried around the world.”

© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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