Bird flu research resumes - but not in U.S.
January 23rd, 2013
01:00 PM ET

Bird flu research resumes - but not in U.S.

Drama surrounding research on the deadly H5N1 avian flu continues, as 40 scientists urge work on the virus to continue in countries that have established guidelines on the safety and aims of the research.  The United States is not among them.

This new correspondence, a letter from researchers published Wednesday in the journals Science and Nature, comes after a "voluntary pause" in the research, which scientists announced in January 2012.

"We declared a pause to this important research to provide time to explain the public-health benefits of this work, to describe the measures in place to minimize possible risks, and to enable organizations and governments around the world to review their policies (for example on biosafety, biosecurity, oversight, and communication) regarding these experiments," the letter states.

In many countries, those objectives have been achieved, according to the letter, and researchers who have permission from their governments to continue this research should do so.

But the United States has been unclear about how long it will be before it issues official guidelines for conditions under which H5N1 transmission research can continue, the letter says.  As such, laboratories in the United States and facilities abroad that receive U.S. funding should not proceed with their transmission studies.

Why is there so much controversy about studying this flu? Let's back up.

The H5N1 bird flu can be deadly to people, but as far as scientists know, it does not easily pass from person to person by way of respiratory droplets – yet.  Scientists are trying to figure out the means by which this could happen, so that they could help the world prepare for a possible disastrous pandemic.

The World Health Organization has recorded 355 humans deaths from H5N1 out of 602 cases, although some research has questioned this high mortality rate.

Two groups of scientists independently conducted studies published last year that involved genetically altering a strain of H5N1 influenza.  A research group in the Netherlands and a separate group at the University of Wisconsin each created a mutated version of the H5N1 virus, a version is more easily transmitted between mammals than what is found in nature.  Both groups used ferrets as test subjects, as these animals closely mimic the human response to the flu.

The results of these studies were not published right away, even though they had been accepted for publication, respectively, by Science and Nature. Concerns were raised in December 2011, partly because of a fear that the research could be misused and become a biological weapon. Other general safety concerns also arose.

Many groups weighed in on what to do with this research.  In February 2012, a World Health Organization committee recommended that the two controversial studies be published in their full form. The National Institutes of Health agreed in April.

Finally, the Nature study was published in May, led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka.  The Science study, which came out in June, was led by Ron Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

While the Nature study looked at how a bird flu virus could become airborne through mutations and re-assortment with other viruses, the Science study suggests mutations alone could do the trick. It would take between five and nine mutations for the H5N1 flu to become airborne, scientists said, which is a low range.

"It’s so easily mutated, so the risk exists in nature already, and not doing the research is really putting us in danger," Kawaoka said at a press conference Wednesday.

Kawaoka cannot continue his research in Wisconsin, funded by the National Institutes of Health, pending further guidance from the United States. Fouchier also receives some NIH funding, but the rest is supported by the European Union and other organizations, so his group can continue studying avian flu using those non-U.S. resources.

At Fouchier's facilities in the Netherlands, employees who work on avian flu wear "moon suits" and there's always a barrier between them and the virus, Fouchier said. Workers are also vaccinated against avian flu, although it is hard to find a company to produce the vaccine; the last vaccination was a year ago.

Fouchier's group is not restarting experiments immediately, but probably within the next few weeks, he said. His group will attempt to nail down exactly how many mutations - and which - are sufficient to make the H5N1 avian flu virus airborne, and whether these particular mutations can also make other bird flu viruses airborne.

Avian flu strains from Indonesia and Vietnam has been studied in the context of mutations so far.  But, says Fouchier, "there are other genetic lineages of H5N1 in Egypt, in China, for instance, that we would like to test whether also, in these countries, viruses may emerge with an airborne transmission phenotype."

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Nydia Worek

    Type A flu virus is constantly changing and is generally responsible for the large flu epidemics. The influenza A2 virus (and other variants of influenza) is spread by people who are already infected. The most common flu hot spots are those surfaces that an infected person has touched and rooms where he has been recently, especially areas where he has been sneezing.*`-*

    Check out the most recently released short article at our own webpage

    June 20, 2013 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. kids toms on sale

    According to the National Turkey Federation, 95 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving. That's one popular bird! But not all birds were created equal. Choosing the top turkey takes experience. You may know, for instance, that you should only buy a USDA approved Grade A turkey. But should you go fresh or frozen? basted or un basted? organic, natural, free range, minimally processed, or kosher? un stuffed or pre stuffed? with or without a pop up thermometer? Then there's cooking and carving.
    kids toms on sale http://chaseelliott.com/wp-app.php?p=kids-toms-on-sale

    April 17, 2014 at 00:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. generic tadalafil 40 mg

    tadalafil pills https://elitadalafill.com/ tadalafil max dose

    April 4, 2021 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. sildenafil dosage recommendations

    sildenafil citrate pills https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ sildenafil 20 mg for sale

    April 5, 2021 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. video of transurethral alprostadil admimistering

    aloprostadil https://alprostadildrugs.com/ injectable for ed

    April 6, 2021 at 06:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. vardenafil vs tadalafil which is better?

    vardenafil coupon https://vegavardenafil.com/ vardenafil sublingual generic

    April 7, 2021 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. viagra in canada

    viagra without a doctor prescription canada https://canadaviagrastore.com/ generic viagra canada

    April 13, 2021 at 03:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. cheap zithromax

    zithromax 100 mg https://zithromaxes.com/ how can i get zithromax

    April 13, 2021 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. alprostadil for sale online

    alprostadil injection https://alprostadildrugs.com/ how much alprostadil vials

    April 14, 2021 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tadalafil online

    buy tadalafil us https://elitadalafill.com/ tadalafil max dose

    April 18, 2021 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. what is the price of generic viagra in canada

    best viagra pills 25 mg canada pharmarcy https://canadaviagrastore.com/ best canada viagra pills online

    April 26, 2021 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. sildenafil tablet 200mg

    sildenafil prescription medicine https://eunicesildenafilcitrate.com/ can you purchase sildenafil over the counter

    April 28, 2021 at 10:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. chloroquine new zealand

    chlorodine https://chloroquineorigin.com/ malaria drugs list

    April 30, 2021 at 09:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. avana

    buy avana avanafil stendra dosage

    May 4, 2021 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. priligy

    priligy 60 mg priligy pills

    May 5, 2021 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Rolland Mahusay

    Have you ever heard of second life (sl for short). It is essentially a game where you can do anything you want. SL is literally my second life (pun intended lol). If you want to see more you can see these second life articles and blogs


    May 10, 2021 at 04:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Kristopher Cruzan

    This was great! I would like you to clean up all this spam though


    May 11, 2021 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.