Attendees of a recent WHO meeting that discussed the possible publication in the journals Nature and Science of two studies that modified H5N1 bird flu strains to show the virus could be more easily transmissible among humans decided publication of redacted versions would be ineffective and that “a system for distributing the full paper only to selected individuals would be impossible to set up on any relevant timescale,” a Nature editorial states. Participants also learned “not only does the mammalian transmissibility threat seem greater than previously thought, but also that current avian viruses have some of the mutations identified in the new work,” according to the editorial.
Pneumonia & Flu
In an analysis (.pdf) published Thursday in the online edition of the journal Science, a team led by virologist Peter Palese of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York raises questions about the WHO’s estimated fatality rate from H5N1 bird flu, saying the rate of 59 percent is based on “an estimate of human bird flu cases that is simply too low,” Reuters reports. The WHO has recorded 586 cases of people infected by bird flu, and of those, 346 have died, the news agency notes (Begley, 2/23). Palese and colleagues say “it is not possible to determine an accurate fatality rate for H5N1 infections based on” available data, but “if one assumes a one to two percent infection rate in exposed populations, this would likely translate into millions of people who have been infected, worldwide” (Wang et al., 2/24). And in a paper published Friday in mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota and a member of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) and a colleague conclude that “[t]he available seroepidemiologic data for human H5N1 infection support the current WHO-reported case-fatality rates of 30% to 80%” (Osterholm/Kelley, 2/24).
NPR’s health blog “Shots” previews an upcoming WHO-convened meeting to discuss the recent news that two research teams have created H5N1 bird flu strains that are easily transmissible among ferrets, which are used as lab models for humans. Fears that terrorists possibly could use the information prompted the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in December to request the scientists redact some information prior to publishing their study results and investigators in January to institute a 60-day moratorium on bird flu research, the blog notes.
U.S. Health Officials Outline New Policies For Funding Research On H5N1 Avian Flu, Other Potentially Dangerous Agents
“U.S. health authorities [on Thursday] outlined the conditions for funding research on the H5N1 bird flu virus a month after scientists lifted a yearlong pause on the work that was imposed amid concerns it could be used by terrorists,” Bloomberg reports (Bennett, 2/21). “One policy, released by [HHS], applies only to scientists seeking funds for…
“Another person suffering from a SARS-like virus has died in Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organization said Thursday, bringing the worldwide number of fatalities from the mystery illness to seven,” Agence France-Presse reports. “The Saudi health ministry had informed the U.N.’s health body that the patient had been hospitalized on January 29…
“The White House, months before flu season, will roll out the big guns Thursday for a swine flu preparedness summit, underscoring the importance the Obama administration is placing on the pandemic,” CNN reports.
The Obama administration on Thursday said a nationwide vaccination program could begin as early as mid-October to protect Americans from the H1N1 (swine flu) virus and pledged $350 million to help prepare communities across the country for this effort, the Washington Times reports.
“Saying the new H1N1 [swine flu] virus is ‘unstoppable’, the WHO gave drug makers a full go-ahead to manufacture vaccines against the pandemic influenza strain on Monday and said healthcare workers should be the first to get one,” Reuters reports (Fox, 7/14). This, as “Britain, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines…
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Sunday the U.S. has agreed to put an addition $1 billion towards ingredients for the production of a vaccine that offers protection against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, Reuters reports.
“In a move that caught many public health experts by surprise, the WHO quietly announced Thursday that it would stop tracking swine flu cases and deaths around the world,” the New York Times reports.