Remember the story in November about a super-flu virus that was created in The Netherlands, and how the scientists wanted to write a paper explaining to the world how they’d created it?
Pandemic H5N1 influenza virus created
NOV 23, 2011: ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS—Locked up in the bowels of the medical faculty building here and accessible to only a handful of scientists lies a man-made flu virus that could change world history if it were ever set free.
The virus is an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu. Scientists believe it’s likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths.
In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make”—and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it…
Bottomline: this Dutch strain became “airborne” between ferrets after 10 generations. Now I’m reading that there are deaths in Cambodia from H5N1:
Cambodian toddler dies from bird flu: WHO
PHNOM PENH — A two-year-old Cambodian boy has died from bird flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, in the country’s first fatality from the virus this year.
The child, from northwestern Banteay Meanchey province, fell ill on January 3 and was taken to hospital where he tested positive for H5N1 avian influenza. He died on January 18, the WHO said on Thursday.
“The boy is the 19th person in Cambodia to become infected with the H5N1 virus; to date, 17 of these cases have died from complications of the disease,” the UN health agency said on its website. [...] the WHO said in a joint statement that the patient had been exposed to sick poultry prior to becoming ill.
So this H5N1 strain causing deaths in Cambodia is still not transmissible human to human — I’m guessing. Apparently it’s still bird to human, so that’s the difference between the Dutch strain and Cambodia’s.
Meanwhile, publication of the airborne ferret to ferret H5N1 pandemic strain is still being discussed:
WHO to lead talks on controversial H5N1 studies
Jan 17, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – A World Health Organization (WHO) official said the agency will play a role in leading discussions on issues related to controversial H5N1 avian influenza transmission studies, as more experts called for a further global discussion of the issues.
Dr Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of health security and environment at the WHO, said the WHO will organize international talks to define the issues concerning the H5N1 studies and begin resolving them, the Canadian Press (CP) reported on Jan 15.
Two papers that describe mutant forms of H5N1 that were easily transmissible among ferrets have been submitted to journals, and the scientific and biosecurity communities have been at odds over whether the complete details should be published. The concern is that publication of the full papers could lead to the unleashing of a highly dangerous virus either through criminal activity or a lab accident.
Fukuda told the CP that the WHO is the right agency to ensure that discussions reflect balanced perspectives that take into account technical, scientific, public health, and political considerations. The WHO itself has voiced concern that H5N1 research like the two studies now at issue could threaten a new virus-sharing agreement that took effect in May 2011.
“It’s genuinely a set of difficult and very important questions,” Fukuda said.
One of the as-yet-unpublished H5N1 studies, by a team led by Dr. Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, was submitted to Science. The other, led by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Tokyo, was submitted to Nature.
The US government has asked the journals to omit key details, following a recommendation by its advisory panel, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB). The journals have said they might go along with the recommendation if a mechanism can be found to share the full details with responsible scientists.
“RESPONSIBLE” SCIENTISTS! Really! How will that be determined?