News / USA

WHO Recommends Continued Research of Lethal Bird Flu Strain

Health department officials and volunteers wear protective gear and cull birds in an effort to check for bird flu, at a poultry farm at Keranga village in Khurda district, India, January 13, 2012.
Health department officials and volunteers wear protective gear and cull birds in an effort to check for bird flu, at a poultry farm at Keranga village in Khurda district, India, January 13, 2012.
Jessica Berman

A panel of the World Health Organization has recommended that research continue on a potentially lethal strain of bird flu so that scientists can better understand how the virus might trigger a global pandemic. The decision follows a U.S. government appeal last December to two scientific journals that they NOT publish key details of a federally-funded experiment that created new, more infectious strains of the deadly bird flu virus.

The H5N1 avian influenza virus originated in poultry flocks in Asia. While it has rarely infected humans, the illness carries a 60 percent mortality rate.    

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands engineered a more virulent strain of the H5N1 bird flu to try to understand how mutations could make it more infectious to both animal and human populations - a change that could lead to a global pandemic.

But a U.S. government panel on biosecurity, concerned that the mutated virus could fall into the hands of bioterrorists, asked two leading scientific magazines - Science and the British journal Nature - not to publish sensitive details of the work.

The magazines agreed and in January, the scientists voluntarily halted their research for 60 days.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting of 20 scientists and public health experts to discuss the issue.  Assistant Director-General for Health, Security and Environment, Keiji Fukuda said participants concluded there is ample justification for continuing the scientific research:

“In really helping us to understand better how these H5N1 viruses work, and also what are some of the changes we ought to be looking for out there in the real world, in terms of trying to keep on top of these viruses, which are becoming more dangerous in terms of causing a pandemic,” said Fukuda.

But Fukuda said the panel also agreed the research moratorium ought to continue for now, until all public health risks and benefits, as well as security fears, have been fully identified and addressed.

Fukuda stressed the research is being carried out in secure laboratory facilities, with little risk to the public.

The WHO panel also recommended that Science and Nature, for the time being, refrain from publishing articles about the research. The editors of Science said Friday they will honor the request.

Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science, said as a result of the work by the American and Dutch scientists, researchers now know how easy it is for the H5N1 virus to mutate, increasing the risk of a global pandemic.

“There’s every reason to suspect that in the natural environment, there will be such a [mutated] virus emerging. I mean millions of birds - I don’t know whether birds sneeze - but obviously the virus will spread better in birds, as well as better in people, if it can be transferred through aerosols.”

The WHO panel is recommending that research on the genetically engineered H5N1 virus be shared with scientists in all countries so they can begin developing drugs and vaccines, should a serious outbreak or pandemic of this deadly form of avian flu ever come to pass.


You May Like

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs