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Thread: Bird flu experiments pose threat, researchers warn

  1. #1

    Bird flu experiments pose threat, researchers warn

    Bird flu experiments pose threat, researchers warn

    Karen Weintraub

    Harvard and Yale researchers called Tuesday for an end to animal research into bird flu, worrying that the virus could escape and trigger a global epidemic.

    Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said he doesn't think the rewards of creating a novel strain of avian flu in ferrets as a few labs around the world do justify the risk that the virus might escape and wreak havoc.

    "There really are a lot of things we can and are doing that are much more likely to yield benefits and also don't put anyone at risk," he said. "We should support safe and effective research rather than risky research."

    Mistakes have happened before, said Lipsitch, who co-wrote an opinion piece in the journal PLOS Medicine with Alison P. Galvani, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health in Connecticut. There is some evidence that a strain of flu common since the late 1970s was released from a lab in China or Russia, he said.

    Even routine strains of the flu cause about 50,000 American deaths a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists worry about a strain that might be significantly more lethal, such as the 1918 flu, which killed 675,000 in the USA.

    The H5N1 bird flu is routinely found in wild birds and sometimes in poultry. The virus occasionally jumps to people usually after direct contact with infected or dead poultry and 650 human cases of H5N1 have been reported from 15 countries since 2003, more than half of them fatal.

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  3. #2
    Virus experiments risk unleashing global pandemic, study warns
    Benefits of scientific testing in the area are outweighed by risks of pathogenic strains spreading round world, say researchers

    Ian Sample

    Public health experts have warned that controversial experiments on mutant viruses could put human lives in danger by unleashing an accidental pandemic.

    Several groups of scientists around the world are creating and altering viruses to understand how natural strains might evolve into more lethal forms that spread easily among humans.

    But in a report published on Tuesday, researchers at Harvard and Yale universities in the US argue that the benefits of the work are outweighed by the risk of pathogenic strains escaping from laboratories and spreading around the world.

    They calculate that if 10 high-containment labs in the US performed such experiments for 10 years, the chance of at least one person becoming infected was nearly 20%. If an infected person left the laboratory, the virus might then spread more widely.

    "We are not saying this is going to happen, but when the potential is a pandemic, even a small chance is something you have to weigh very heavily," said Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health, who wrote the report with Alison Galvani, an epidemiologist at Yale.

    The report threatens to reignite a crisis in science that erupted in 2012 when a US biosecurity panel ruled that two separate studies on mutant bird flu were too dangerous to publish. They described the creation of new mutant strains that spread among ferrets – a proxy for humans – held in neighbouring cages. One fear was that the recipe for the pathogens might fall into the hands of bioterrorists.

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