News / Health

Bird Flu Studies, Halted Over Terrorism Fear, to Resume

A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012. A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
x
A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
Jessica Berman
An international group of scientists has lifted its year-long moratorium on studying the highly infectious H5N1 bird flu virus. Scientists said Wednesday the medical benefits of their research far outweigh the potential risk of public harm, but many of them might still have to wait for the United States to resume funding their controversial research.  
 
Japanese virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Tokyo told reporters he and 40 other signatories to a bird-flu research moratorium last year plan to resume their work to learn more about the H5N1 avian influenza virus, with the goal of preventing a potentially lethal human pandemic.
 
“Therefore the greater risk is not doing research that could help us be better equipped to deal with a pandemic," he said.
 
Public fears peaked a little over a year ago that highly pathogenic, mutated copies of the H5N1 virus could escape from research laboratories and sicken the public, or be stolen and weaponized by bio-terrorists, leading to a global public health emergency.  At the request of the U.S government, Kawaoka and researcher Ron Fourchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, agreed to temporarily halt their H5N1 research, and to limit publication of their findings to date.   
 
U.S. officials asked that key details of the scientists’ research on the transmissibility of mutant strains of the virus in ferrets be omitted in studies slated for publication in the journals Nature and Science, until the lab security risks and oversight measures could be further studied. 
 
After a year of investigating the safety of H5N1 research in several countries, and being satisfied that the research poses little or no public harm, the scientists say it’s time to move ahead with studies of H5N1. They want to identify viral mutations that could make the bird pathogen more easily transmissible to humans through sneezing or coughing, changes that would raise the danger of a deadly pandemic.
 
Already, says researcher Ron Fouchier, a number of viral mutations have been discovered in birds in Asia that could help public health officials keep an eye out for the emergence of H5N1 in the human population.
 
"We have now put these mutations in the context of a virus from Indonesia and Dr. Kawaoka has done in the context of a virus from Vietnam. But there are other genetic lineages of H5N1 in Egypt and China, for instance, that we would like to test whether these viruses will emerge," he said. 
 
Fouchier says the work will also help scientists develop vaccines against H5N1. Besides the Netherlands, he says, China is expected to begin further research with H5N1 in the next few weeks.
 
But many countries conducting viral research receive their funds from the United States. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says any request for H5N1 funding support will be subject to approval under guidelines for so-called dual use research, in which scientists must demonstrate their research could not be used for nefarious or harmful purposes.
 
“So even though they, quote, 'lifted the moratorium,' those who are funded by the U.S. government, by the N.I.H., will not proceed with these experiments until they get cleared through the criteria that I just mentioned to you," he said. 
 
Fauci says most countries conducting H5N1 funding get the lion’s share of their funding from the U.S. government, and grants are made based on the National Institutes of Health's determination that the scientific investigation is necessary.  
 
But Ron Fouchier of the Netherlands says many international scientists might be able to secure at least partial funding for renewed H5N1 research from the European Union. 

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid