Federal officials have asked the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) “to review the state of the science looking at human transmission of deadly bird flu, says panel chief Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University,” USA Today reports. “In December, the NSABB asked the journals, Science and Nature, to withhold details of studies that showed how to make the flu strain transmissible between ferrets, the closest mammal model for human-to-human transmission of the bug,” the newspaper notes. “‘We are now involved in a broader review,’ Keim says. … ‘This research is valuable, but saying this is just “basic” research ignores that influenza is a very special pathogen,’ Keim adds,” according to the newspaper (Vergano, 1/10).
Pneumonia & Flu
In this Reuters opinion piece, New York-based writer Peter Christian Hall responds to “the U.S. government’s move to restrict publication of vital research into H5N1 avian flu,” writing, “This unprecedented interference in the field of biology could hinder research and hamper responsiveness in distant lands plagued by H5N1,” yet “no one seems to be challenging a key assumption — that H5N1 could make a useful weapon. It wouldn’t.”
The WHO on Thursday “announced the deaths of two men from H5N1 avian influenza, one from Egypt and another from China whose death was reported earlier in the media,” CIDRAP News reports. Both men are suspected to have contracted the virus from avian sources, although an investigation into the man from China’s exposure to the virus is ongoing, according to news service. “The two infections and deaths push the WHO global H5N1 count to 576 cases and 339 deaths. According to WHO records, the number of H5N1 cases and deaths reported in 2011 so far are modestly higher than 2010 (60 cases versus 48, and 33 deaths versus 24),” CIDRAP writes (Schnirring, 1/5).
Author Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in this Foreign Policy opinion piece that the announcement that researchers from Norway and the U.S. have developed a supercontagious variety of bird flu “has highlighted a dilemma: How do you balance the universal mandate for scientific openness against the fear that terrorists or rogue states might follow the researchers’ work — using it as catastrophic cookbooks for global influenza contagion?” She continues, “Along with several older studies that are now garnering fresh attention, [the research] has revealed that the political world is completely unprepared for the synthetic-biology revolution” and notes “there are no consistent, internationally agreed-upon regulations governing synthetic biology, the extraordinarily popular and fruitful 21st-century field of genetic manipulation of microorganisms.”
In this Huffington Post “Impact” blog post, Karl Hofmann, president and CEO of PSI, outlines 10 “milestones for the global health community” that occurred in 2011. Among the achievements, Hofmann says governments avoided making major cuts to foreign aid budgets despite a global economic downturn; studies supported “treatment as prevention” as an HIV prevention strategy; the number of malaria cases and deaths worldwide continued to decline; research showed a promising vaccine candidate to prevent malaria among children; and more women gained access to long-acting, reversible contraceptives. Hofmann also lists advances in social franchising; maternal health; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; pneumonia prevention and treatment; and sanitation, hygiene and access to clean water (12/29).
“The World Health Organization issued a stern warning on Friday to scientists who have engineered a highly pathogenic form of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, saying their work carries significant risks and must be tightly controlled,” Reuters reports (Kelland, 12/30). The agency “warned … that while such studies were important, they could have deadly consequences,” the New York Times writes (McNeil/Grady, 1/2).
U.S. Science Advisory Board Asks Science, Nature To Omit Data From Bird Flu Studies Amid Security Concerns
The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity on “Tuesday asked two scientific journals to leave out data from research studies on a lab-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, fearing it could be used as a potential weapon,” Reuters reports (Steenhuysen, 12/20). The board “recommended that the journals Science and Nature publish only the general discoveries, not the full blueprint for these man-made strains,” the Associated Press notes (Neergaard, 12/20). “Editors at the journals … say they will not agree to the redactions until they are assured the data will be accessible to researchers” according to BBC News (12/20).
In this Huffington Post opinion piece, Orin Levine, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, reports on how World Pneumonia Day, inaugurated in 2009 by financier Lance Laifer, has grown from an idea into a movement, writing, “World Pneumonia Day 2010 is engaging governments, child health organizations and advocates in an effort to spotlight the leading killer of children” and “perhaps even more exciting is the way this movement has grown in just one year, engaging everyday citizens in the effort to raise awareness in creative ways.”
“A global push to bring a vaccine against the bacterial cause of pneumonia to communities that need it most is ramping up quickly, expanding to nearly 60 countries in the next five years,” PBS NewsHour’s “The Rundown” reports. “At least three million child deaths could be prevented in the next decade through the global vaccine rollout, according to a new analysis published Thursday in the journal of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene by health experts from Children’s Hospital Boston and Johns Hopkins University, among others,” the blog states, adding, “More new research released this week by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health called the rate of the rollout and its quick expansion ‘unprecedented.'”
The third annual World Pneumonia Day will be observed on Saturday. The following is a summary of several pieces published in recognition of the day.