Sunday, February 19, 2012

H5N1 Wake Up Call #H5N1 #BIRDFLU

Recombinomics Commentary 14:30
February 19, 2012
Bruce Alberts says that the research shows that it is very easy for lethal bird flu to develop and it should act as a "real wake up call to the world".

He added: "This is likely to happen at some point in the wild because these viruses are mutating very actively in the wild."

Kudos to Science for cutting to the chase on the H5N1 transmission issues. The two papers are game changes with regard to the understanding of the risk of a natural and evolving H5N1. Prior “experts” had claimed that H5N1 would never transmit in humans because it is an “avian” virus, and had not jumped to humans, in spite of many opportunities since the outbreaks in Hong Kong in 1997, and rapid expansion in Asia in 2004, and throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in 2006.
However, two different groups using two distinct sub-clades had achieved efficient transmission in a ferret model involving a small number of natural changes, highlighting the near term potential for efficient transmission.Although the NSABB has the right to request limitations, they have not made a scientifically valid argument. Instead, public comments have revealed a serious lack of understand of the scientific literature and the abilities of others to reproduce and improve the transmission based on papers published prior to the acceptance of the papers at Nature and Science.
Both groups have published extensively in the past, and media reports describe the overall findings. The Science paper uses a clade 2.1 isolate from Indonesia with three changes, which was passed in ferrets to select two additional changes. All five changes in the two genes have been described previously, although all five have not been reported in the same isolate, although published sequences include four of the five is a single isolate. The Nature paper uses a different sub-clade ( from Vietnam, but only the H5 is used. It is on an H1N1 background, and the sub-clade and construct have been described previously.
Thus, any serious program targeting an H5 that transmits efficiently in mammals would already have sufficient information to reproduce and improve the censored results, since there is little doubt that transmission is not limited to the two examples described in the Nature and Science papers.H5N1 however, remains a poor choice as a bioweapon because it can’t be controlled once it has been released, although interest in a transmitting H5N1 will likely increase due to the attention and concerns expressed by the NSABB.
The concerns have also detracted from the game changing result, as noted in the above quote, which is why the papers should be immediately published in full, so a true discussion of the significance of these results can begin, which includes enhanced surveillance and counter measures such as an extensive H5N1 vaccination campaign to protect against a naturally evolving H5N1.

1 comment:

Duff Smith said...

This sums up my view exactly. In fact, if some apocalyptically inclined terror group has fancied weaponized H5 at any time in the past decade, The Fouchier studies speak to the probability that such efforts have already succeeded. In that case, such a group might be trying to improve their tactical circumstances for the release of such an uncontrollable weapon by trying to invent a reliable vaccine (in their wildest fantasies) or by forming isolated autonomous survival outposts (a wise-sounding backup plan for perhaps anyone). This NSABB decision emphasizes the importance of the role of government in a now-familiar manner. But as such, it is a dangerous overstatement of the role of central government and an understatement of the role of rational preparedness on the most efficient of levels for this particular (presumably unavoidable) threat: local communities. Even if bird flu somehow does not break out in any of the three recently discussed ways, another virus certainly eventually will and the "normalcy" of 7 billion humans breathing in one another's faces and continent-hopping on airplanes will be proven for the illusion that it is.