Newspaper article The Canadian Press

U.S. Biosecurity Panel Asked to Reconsider Controversial Bird Flu Studies: Biosecurity Panel Asked to Review Flu Studies

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

U.S. Biosecurity Panel Asked to Reconsider Controversial Bird Flu Studies: Biosecurity Panel Asked to Review Flu Studies

Article excerpt

A panel of U.S. biosecurity experts is being asked to review its recommendation that two controversial bird flu studies shouldn't be published in full, a senior U.S. health official revealed Wednesday.

Word that the National Institutes of Health are lobbing the ball back into the court of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity came as the author of one of the studies attempted to clear up what he described as public misconceptions about the viruses made in his laboratory.

Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier said the H5N1 viruses created in his lab at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam did spread easily among ferrets housed in adjoining cages, the first time H5N1 has been seen to transmit in a sustained fashion among mammals.

But Fouchier said none of the ferrets infected in that experiment died from exposure to the virus -- in fact, they barely got sick. He said references he made to lethal ferret infections related to another part of the experiment, when his team inoculated other ferrets with massive doses of the virus deep in their lungs, which is not the way flu typically infects.

H5N1 "is certainly not highly lethal if ferrets start coughing or sneezing to (at) each other," he said during a panel discussion on the controversy at a conference in Washington, D.C., that was staged by the American Society of Microbiology.

Fouchier said the evidence from his study suggests that in fact the lab-made viruses don't spread as well as seasonal flu in ferrets. To suggest those viruses might spread like wildfire among humans if they managed to escape from the lab is "far-fetched," he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases -- part of the National Institutes of Health -- said the biosecurity panel is being asked to reconvene to study revised versions of Fouchier's research paper and another contested work, by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As well, the NSABB will be given access to new data that was shared at a World Health Organization meeting on the issue in mid-February, information that at present cannot be publicly divulged, Fauci said. …

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