The WHO on Friday announced the H1N1 (swine) flu virus has killed at least 2,837 people â€“ the result of an continued increase in the number of H1N1 cases worldwide, not the virulence of the virus, Reuters reports. “There is no sense that the virus has mutated or changed in any sense,” WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said during a news conference (Nebehay/MacInnis, 9/4).
Pneumonia & Flu
The H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine will cost countries between $2.50 and $20 per dose, based upon their ability to pay, according to the director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research at the WHO, Marie-Paule Kieny, Agence France-Presse/Khaleej Times reports.
“China faces a grim situation in containing the H1N1 [swine] flu, as schools start up again and the number of domestic cases, as well as clusters of cases, rises, China’s Minister of Health said on Tuesday,” Reuters reports.
Rep. Sensenbrenner Sends Second Letter Inquiring About U.S. Government’s Review Of Controversial H5N1 Studies
“A senior Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives is asking more questions about how the U.S. government reviewed two controversial H5N1 avian influenza studies, and how it wrote a new policy for reviewing taxpayer-funded studies that might be used for good and evil,” ScienceInsider reports. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) on Monday “sent a letter [.pdf] to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), asking him to clarify how the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) reached its recent decision to recommend publication of the two studies after recommending against publication late last year,” the news service writes, noting, “The letter also asks for more information on which government officials were involved” in the new policy regarding research that might be “dual use research of concern” (DURC).
“The Dutch government has agreed to grant an export license to allow Ron Fouchier, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical University in Rotterdam, to publish his work on H5N1 avian influenza in Science,” Nature’s “News Blog” reports (Owens, 4/27). “Fouchier had to get permission first from the Dutch Department of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation — in line with E.U. regulations — because a risk existed that the H5N1 virus, as well as its research, ‘could be used for the wrong purposes,’ the Dutch department said in a statement,” according to Agence France-Presse (4/28).
Following the conclusion of a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week — meant “to gather feedback from flu researchers, others in the science community, and the public on its draft framework for funding H5N1 gain-of-function studies and to continue an international dialogue on issues related to benefits and risks of the research” — “experts anticipated that a voluntary moratorium on work with lab-modified strains that have increased transmissibility might end soon,” CIDRAP News reports (Schnirring, 12/18). “That’s because officials at the National Institutes of Health say they will be moving swiftly to finalize a new process for deciding whether or not to fund proposed experiments that could potentially create more dangerous forms of the bird flu virus H5N1,” NPR’s “Shots” blog notes.
CIDRAP News reports on a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health during which “researchers, biosecurity experts, and others” discussed the “crafting [of] a framework for funding H5N1 avian influenza gain-of-function studies.” The meeting “is the latest chapter in an intense scientific controversy that was triggered by the publication of two recent studies involving lab-engineered H5N1 strains that showed signs of being transmissible in mammals,” according to the news service. “The global scientific community is closely watching the framework discussions, because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the world’s biggest funders of H5N1 research, including the two studies that sparked the controversy,” CIDRAP writes, adding, “Studies on H5N1 are considered a key pandemic preparedness step, and research findings have been used to help governments guide the development of vaccine and antiviral countermeasures.” According to the news service, “The HHS will post a summary and video of the meeting at a later date for those who weren’t able to attend, and it is encouraging people to submit written comments by Jan 10, 2013” (Schnirring, 12/17).
“Small ceramic indoor stoves, such as those sold by women in AIDS self-help groups in Africa, do save fuel and cut down on eye-irritating smoke, a new study has found — but they do not save children from pneumonia,” the New York Times reports. “The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, compared 168 households in rural Kenya that used either ‘upesi jiko’ [ceramic] stoves or traditional three-stone indoor fires,” the newspaper writes, noting, “Biweekly visits by researchers found that children in both the stove and open-fire homes got pneumonia equally often” (McNeil, 12/17). Though the ceramic stoves have some benefits, such as reduced smoke in the home and lower risk of burns, Rob Quick, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the research team, said, “[O]ur group is studying six novel cookstove technologies designed to cleaner burning, and we should have results in the next few months to see if one or more of these cookstove designs offer potential for reducing the risk of pneumonia,” according to VOA News (Lewis, 12/17).
U.S. Government’s Draft Guidance On Funding For H5N1 Research Receives ‘Mixed Reception,’ Science Reports
“Researchers are giving a mixed reception to a draft U.S. government plan to do more stringent funding reviews of certain kinds of H5N1 avian influenza research — and perhaps even require some studies to be kept secret,” Science reports. “The proposal, presented last week at a meeting of the government’s National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in Bethesda, Maryland, is the latest fallout from the controversy surrounding two studies in which scientists engineered the H5N1 virus, which normally causes deadly infections in birds, to move between mammals, potentially opening the door to a human pandemic,” the magazine continues. The plan contains “seven criteria that a study would have to meet to be eligible for NIH funding,” the magazine notes and includes reaction from several researchers. According to Science, “NIH says it will soon release for public comment a white paper that details the plan, and officials will present it at an international workshop on H5N1 research that HHS is hosting in Bethesda on 17 and 18 December” (Malakoff, 12/7).
GAO on Monday published two reports on the government’s response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. The first report examines lessons learned from the government’s response that can be incorporated into future planning (6/27). The second report examines how production delays for the H1N1 vaccine “heightened interest in alternative technologies…