Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Risk benefit assessments needed for H5N1 Bird Flu research

Risk benefit assessments needed before H5N1 Bird Flu experiments continue.

Approximately 9 months ago, a voluntary moratorium on Bird Flu research went into effect to allow scientists time to figure out how to conduct research without the findings falling into the hands of terrorists or others who might create bio-terrorism strains.

Right now, H5N1 ("Bird Flu") rarely is transmitted to humans; when it does, it is often times fatal.  So, studying the potential for mutations of this strain are reasonable, with the goal of developing ways to protect the public.  But, creating dangerous mutations in the lab raises the specter of potential accidental releases of the mutations.  And publishing research on these mutations also poses a potential risk in making it easier for terrorists to create their own mutations.

The LA Times reports that key players in the debate have weighed in.  But, things are currently at a standstill. 

Our take:

While it is important that research continue, reasonable steps should be taken to protect the public. 

Perhaps a registry of influenza scientists can be created, with only authorized scientists given access to the most risky information.  More general information (minus dangerous details) can be made available to the public on the findings of the research. 

While it may seem anti-democratic to guard scientific knowledge, we see this as no different than withholding information on “how to build a bomb.”   Sharing scientific knowledge is important and one of the best ways to quickly find solutions.  But, true influenza researchers should have no problem with safeguarding the public while at the same time sharing key data with only those who are working to find answers to this complex challenge.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Swine flu rears its ugly little head under the radar.

Pigs on the loose and under the radar. 

A woman in Ohio dies after exposure to a pig at an agricultural fair…   Pigs in Korea carry H1N2.

An article in New Scientist provides a worrisome look at the potential for the global resurgence of Swine Flu (H1N2). 

Author Debora MacKenzie points to examples from Korea to Ohio to show the dangers of this strain of the flu. MacKenzie describes how Robert Webster, of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, placed "H1N2 flu virus, from the lungs of a pig slaughtered in South Korea in 2009, into the noses and windpipes of three ferrets. " The ferrets perished.  This is a cause for concern as ferrets process influenza in much the same way as humans.
Of the experts contacted by New Scientist, all agreed that further research is needed to find out what mutations will make the Swine Flu dangerous to humans. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

CDC report shows flu virtually nonexistent in the US

The weekly influenza surveillance report prepared by the Influenza Division of the CDC shows that influenza ("the flu") is virtually non-existent in the United States.

Influenza A (H1) has zero reported cases.  A (H3)  shows 21 cases with  2009 H1N1 at 2 cases.

There were 31 cases of Influenza A where sub-typing was not performed.  There were 102 cases of Influenza B reported and 7 cases of H3N2v.

Given the population of the United States (312.8 million), these numbers are statistically insignificant.