Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Bird flu science too scary to publish, some say

Some biosecurity experts are concerned new research could be used as a blueprint by nefarious forces and are arguing against publication of the work.

Some biosecurity experts are concerned new research could be used as a blueprint by nefarious forces and are arguing against publication of the work. (CBC)

 

From the 19th November 2011 CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corp) news item

(via a Linked In item by Sandeep Pulim M.D.,Sr. Medical Editor at M3-USA, who is also on Twitter)

 

New bird flu research that shows that the dangerous virus can mutate to become easily transmissible among ferrets — and perhaps humans — has embroiled the scientific community in a difficult debate.

Some biosecurity experts are concerned the research could be used as a blueprint by nefarious forces and are arguing against publication of the work.

But others, especially influenza scientists, are countering that the flu world needs to know the possible paths the H5N1 virus could take to become one that can spread easily among people so laboratories can be on the lookout for those changes in nature….

2 papers already published

The body does not have the power to bar publication, but it is unclear whether a scientific journal would feel comfortable publishing an article if the group says it should not be placed in the public domain.

It’s also not clear whether the funders of the research — in this case, the U.S. National Institutes of Health — would permit publication if the government’s biosecurity advisers objected to publication of an article.

The controversy relates to several papers, two of which have recently been published and another which is in the publication pipeline.

That latter paper is the one garnering the most concern.

The senior author, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, won’t talk about the work other than to confirm it is under review by the National Security Advisory Board on Biosecurity.

But Fouchier electrified the flu world in September when he gave an outline of the work at a major influenza conference in Malta.

He told the gathering that in trying to find out whether H5N1 could acquire the ability to spread easily among people, he came up with a virus that spread among ferrets as easily as seasonal flu viruses, according to a report on the meeting in Scientific American.

Scientists caught in Catch-22

Ferrets are considered the best animal model for human infection with influenza. It is feared that a virus that could spread easily among the animals would spread easily among people as well.

H5N1 currently does not transmit easily to people or among people. To date there have been 570 confirmed cases of H5N1 infection in 15 countries and 335 of those people have died.

The other two recently published studies, one by scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and another by scientists at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., both involved engineering viruses with some genes from H5N1 viruses. Both papers were published without being referred to the biosecurity advisory board.

Flu scientists may feel like they are caught in a Catch-22 situation. For years they’ve faced demands from governments anxious to know whether H5N1 could become a human flu virus and what it would take for that to happen.

 

 

 

November 21, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild birds may play a role in the spread of bird flu, new research suggests

Wild birds may play a role in the spread of bird flu, new research suggests

This bar-headed goose (Anser indicus) was marked with a satellite transmitter at Qinghai Lake, China, in an effort to understand the role that wild birds play in avian influenza. (Credit: Diann Prosser, USGS)

From the March 25 2011 Science Daily news item

ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2011) — Wild migratory birds may indeed play a role in the spread of bird flu, also known as highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey,[free full text at this link] the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Chinese Academy of Sciences used satellites, outbreak data and genetics to uncover an unknown link in Tibet among wild birds, poultry and the movement of the often-deadly virus.

Researchers attached GPS satellite transmitters to 29 bar-headed geese — a wild species that migrates across most of Asia and that died in the thousands in the 2005 bird flu outbreak in Qinghai Lake, China. GPS data showed that wild geese tagged at Qinghai Lake spend their winters in a region outside of Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, near farms where H5N1 outbreaks have occurred in domestic geese and chickens….

 

 

 

March 27, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

Growing number of farm animals spawn new diseases

Growing number of farm animals spawn new diseases

A cow stands on the Klausenpass mountain pass road, 1,952 m (6,404 ft) in the Swiss Alps August 19, 2009. In the background is the Urnerboden Valley. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

 

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A growing number of livestock, such as cows and pigs, are fuelling new animal epidemics worldwide and posing more severe problems in developing countries as it threatens their food security, according to a report released on Friday.

Epidemics in recent years, such as SARS and the H1N1 swine flu, are estimated to have caused billions of dollars in economic costs.

Some 700 million people keep farm animals in developing countries and these animals generate up to 40 percent of household income, the report by the International Livestock Research Institute said.

“Wealthy countries are effectively dealing with livestock diseases, but in Africa and Asia, the capacity of veterinary services to track and control outbreaks is lagging dangerously behind livestock intensification,” John McDermott and Delia Grace at the Nairobi-based institute said in a statement on the report.

“This lack of capacity is particularly dangerous because many poor people in the world still rely on farm animals to feed their families, while rising demand for meat, milk and eggs among urban consumers in the developing world is fueling a rapid intensification of livestock production.”

Seventy-five percent of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, they added. Of these 61 percent are transmissible between animals and humans.

“A new disease emerges every four months; many are trivial but HIV, SARS and avian influenza (eg. H5N1) illustrate the huge potential impacts,” McDermott and Grace wrote in the report.

HUGE ECONOMIC COSTS

Epidemics like SARS in 2003, sporadic outbreaks of the H5N1 avian flu since 1997 and the H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009 racked up enormous economic costs around the world.

While SARS cost between $50 billion to $100 billion, the report cited a World Bank estimate in 2010 which pinned the potential costs of an avian flu pandemic at $3 trillion.

The report warned that rapid urbanization and climate change could act as “wild cards,” altering the present distribution of diseases, sometimes “dramatically for the worse.”

The two researchers urged developing countries to improve animal disease surveillance and speed up testing procedures to help contain livestock epidemics before they become widespread.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

 

 

 


February 15, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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