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NIH Official Discusses Reaction To Bird Flu Studies, Development Of Publishing Mechanism In Nature Interview

Nature interviews Amy Patterson, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Science Policy, which administers the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), about the board’s decision in December to advise against full publication of “two papers on avian flu (H5N1) [that] could pose a biosecurity risk if published in their entirety.” Patterson discusses the efforts of the board and the “international flu community” to “develop a mechanism by which important details from the papers could be withheld from the general public while remaining accessible to public health officials and researchers studying the virus,” Nature writes (Ledford, 1/11).

NSABB Explanation Of Decision To Recommend Censoring Of Bird Flu Research Expected Soon

The NIH is expected on February 1 to release a statement explaining how the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) reached a decision in November to recommend “that two scientific papers describing research that created strains of bird flu potentially transmissible in humans should be published only if key details are omitted,” for fear “that terrorists or hostile nations could learn how to cause a pandemic,” a New York Times editorial by Philip Boffey, Times science editorial writer, states.

WHO To Take Lead Role In Addressing Controversial Bird Flu Research, Official Says

“The World Health Organization says it will take a role in helping sort through an international scientific controversy over two bird flu studies that the U.S. government deemed too dangerous to publish in full,” the Canadian Press/Winnipeg Free Press reports. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security and environment, on Sunday in an interview with the Canadian Press “said the agency will pull together international talks aimed at fleshing out the issues that need to be addressed and then work to resolve them.” On the advice of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB), the journals Science and Nature “have grudgingly agreed to abbreviate the papers, leaving out the details of how the work was done,” according to the news service.

Settling Controversy Surrounding Bird Flu Research Will Not Be Easy

The WHO is expected to hold a meeting in February to discuss controversy over recent research on the H5N1 bird flu virus, after the U.S. National Scientific Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in December advised the journals Science and Nature to withhold publishing two teams’ research on the virus for fear the information could “fall into the wrong hands,” a commentary in the Economist’s “Babbage” blog states. “In a statement sent to Science, the WHO says that research” into bird flu genetics is “an important tool for global surveillance efforts,” the commentary says.

Scientists Use New Communications, Research Technologies To Quickly Identify, Contain Microbes

Since the outbreak of what became known as SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, 10 years ago, scientists have been quick to identify and contain new viruses, which they attribute to improved communication among researchers and from the general public, NPR’s “Shots” blog reports. In addition to the Internet and social media, the International Health Regulations, which went into effect in 2007, “require countries to report disease outbreaks right away to the World Health Organization,” according to the blog. “Better communications aside, the world has another big advantage over the SARS era,” as the genetic sequencing of new pathogens can be determined quickly, rather than over a period of months, the blog writes, noting, “Knowing the genetic sequence gives researchers a lot of clues about where the virus may have come from” and “also has enabled them to devise a quick and reliable diagnostic test, plus a confirmatory test, so doctors can tell if an acutely ill patient is infected with the new virus or something else” (Knox, 10/3).

FDA Recommends H1N1 For Inclusion In Next Year’s Flu Vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday recommended that the H1N1 (swine flu) strain be added to next year’s seasonal flu vaccine, “putting an end to separate shots deployed against the pandemic,” Bloomberg reports. The FDA committee voted unanimously to make the H1N1 strain one of the three strains included in the shot, according to the news service. “The panel’s recommendations are routinely adopted and used to guide vaccine manufacturers,” Bloomberg writes (Randall, 2/22).

WHO Will Meet To Decide If H1N1 Has Peaked

The WHO will convene a meeting of its emergency committee later this month to assess whether H1N1 (swine flu) has peaked, Keiji Fukuda, the special adviser to the WHO’s director general for pandemic influenza said Thursday, Bloomberg reports. “While the flu continues to spread in parts of the world, notably northern Africa, eastern Europe and eastern Asia, infection activity is declining, [Fukuda] said,” according to Bloomberg (Serafino, 2/11).

WHO Emergency Committee Concludes ‘Too Premature’ To Declare H1N1 Has Peaked

The WHO’s emergency committee concluded Tuesday that it was too early to declare that H1N1 (swine flu) has peaked in all parts of the world, the Associated Press reports. The announcement came after the committee met to review the most recent statistics H1N1 activity around the world (2/24).

Also In Global Health News: Maternal, Child Health In Rwanda, Pakistan, India; Mongolia Weather; H1N1

Rwanda Targets Communities In Effort To Curb Maternal Mortality To reduce maternal mortality in Rwanda and reach U.N. Millennium Development Goal targets, the government will conduct maternal death audits in villages to help identify ways to improve outcomes, Rwanda’s Minister of Health Richard Sezibera announced recently, the New Times/allAfrica.com reports.…

Health Officials Encourage Caution, Despite H1N1 Case Decline

As the number of new H1N1 (swine flu) infections worldwide drops, U.S. health officials on Friday cautioned the virus continues to circulate and can still be deadly, Reuters reports. According to the WHO, H1N1 remains the dominant strain worldwide, but there are reports of the recent emergence of the seasonal flu in Africa and China, according to the news agency.