That’s What We Need…More Flu.
So the advisory board that initially urged caution in publishing the exact instructions as to how to make Bird Flu spread like the common cold has now reversed its decision. To sum it up, they argued that the resultant virus would also be less lethal….how comforting. Apparently, in ferrets the mutated virus is less lethal but that does not necessarily translate to humans. So they will publish the instructions on how to do this and then figure that part out. Brilliant. What part of “some people hate us so much that they will do anything to hurt us” do they not get? I am totally amazed at how naive we can be!
Bioterror Board Reverses Stand in Flu Papers
Two scientific papers on the H5N1 avian influenza virus should be published in full, according to the U.S. advisory board that initially urged that only parts of the research be made public.
The apparent about-face comes after months of controversy and is based on revisions and amplifications made to the papers, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity said in a statement.
The journals involved, Nature and Science, both expressed pleasure at the revised recommendation and said the two papers will be published as soon as possible. Neither journal set a publication date immediately.
The new position came after a two-day meeting on March 29 and 30, in which the advisory board’s members pored over revised and expanded papers from teams led by Ron Fouchier, PhD, of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin Madison.
The board unanimously agreed that the Kawaoka paper should be published in full, and agreed by a 12-6 vote that the Fouchier paper should also go ahead without redaction.
There was no explanation for the nature of the disagreement that led to a less than unanimous vote on the Fouchier research.
In its statement, the board said its new position hinged on two elements:
- The data in the revised manuscripts “do not appear to provide information that would immediately enable misuse of the research in ways that would endanger public health or national security.”
- “New evidence … underscores the fact that understanding specific mutations may improve international surveillance and public health and safety.”
The change in position comes after the World Health Organization argued that the two papers should be published in full, rather than leaving out some of the methods and findings.
Both teams had been investigating what it would take to make the H5N1 bird flu more easily transmissible among humans.
Although the full details are still not known, both teams were able to mutate the virus so that airborne particles could infect and be transmitted among ferrets, animals that are regarded as a good model for human flu.
In the lab, the mutated virus was easily transmitted by ferrets coughing or sneezing on one another — exactly as the seasonal human flu is passed on.
Both teams also identified specific mutations that are needed for the bird flu to become easily transmissible among mammals, potentially improving flu surveillance efforts.
What was apparently not emphasized in the original manuscripts was that the mutations that led to transmissibility also made the virus less lethal. “The information was in the original paper but perhaps it was not as clear as it should have been,” Fouchier told Agence France-Presse in London.
The wild-type H5N1 flu is widespread in domestic and wild fowl, but only rarely causes disease in humans. When it does, however, it is often lethal: the World Health Organization is reporting just 600 cases around the world from the start of 2003 to April 2, 2012, but 353 of them have been fatal.
Science editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts, PhD, said in a statement that the magazine will ensure that the revised manuscript “clearly reports” that the mutant H5N1 virus developed by Fouchier and colleagues did not kill the animals following airborne transmission.
In fact, Alberts added, the researchers found that the virus was fatal only after animals were inoculated in the trachea at “extremely high doses.”
Kawaoka says he told Nature, which is intending to publish his team’s paper, that he thinks the new decision came after board members gained a better understanding of the public-health implications of the work.
The research described changes in the hemagglutinin protein — the ‘H’ in H5N1 — that make avian flu more transmissible among mammals.
“We were able to explain that very few mutations are needed for the hemagglutinin of the currently circulating H5N1 viruses to become a hemagglutinin that supports respiratory droplet transmission in ferrets,” he says.
Hemagglutinin binds to cells with sialic acid receptors, but the bird flu binds to a different type than human influenza — alpha 2-3 sialic acid receptors rather than alpha 2-6 receptors.
Humans have small numbers of the 2-3 receptors, while birds have low densities of the 2-6 receptors, so that influenza strains adapted to one have difficulty infecting the other.