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Deadly New Strain of Bird Flu: Apocalyptic Potential

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

COMMENT: A recent modification of the “Bird Flu” virus has made it much more dangerous for humans and potentially, a boon for private and/or governmental elements that might be tempted to use such weaponry.

In addition to the fact that the modification itself represented a quantum leap forward for the pandemic potential of the virus, the publication itself was focus of controversy.

Some feel that making this information available to the public is itself foolish, enabling malefactors who might be so inclined to utilize this research for nefarious ends.

“What Really Happened in Malta this September when Contagious Bird Flu Was Announced” by Katherine Harmon; Scientific American Blogs; 12/30/2011.

EXCERPT: . . . Just across the hall, however, in the cannily named Eden Arena, the room was dark, as researchers prepared to mount the stage and explain some of the many ways that humanity might soon be threatened by a truly terrifying flu pandemic.

So maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but perhaps it should have felt more so. Less than an hour later, a suspiciously sniffly Ron Fouchier, a lanky virologist from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam with a wry smile and reassuringly understated manner, would announce that he and his lab had found a way to make the deadly H5N1 that would likely be just as transmissible from one human to the next as the seasonal flu.

Circulating seasonal strains, such as H3N2, are adept at attaching to the human nasal cavity and trachea, making them easily transferable among people via a sneeze, cough or sigh. But fortunately for us, H5N1, as it has circulated in bird populations, has not yet developed this capability. Fouchier and his team wanted to see if it was possible to give it that power.

So they “mutated the hell out of H5N1,” Fouchier said, towering over the podium at the meeting’s Monday morning plenary session. But as it turns out, they hardly needed to. With just a few genetic substitutions, the virus was able to affix to nose and trachea cells—a development “which seemed to be very bad news,” he said.

Fortunately for the lab’s test ferrets, a common animal model for human flu transmission, the flu still didn’t seem to pass airborne from animal to animal.

And that was when “someone finally convinced me to do something really, really stupid,” Fouchier recounted. They put the mutated H5N1 into the nose of one ferret, then took a sample of nasal fluid from that ferret and put it in the nose of another. After 10 ferrets, the virus began spreading from ferret to ferret via the air just about as easily as a seasonal flu virus. . . .

Discussion

14 comments for “Deadly New Strain of Bird Flu: Apocalyptic Potential”

  1. Great, so now everyone knows simple techniques for weaponizing crazy flu strains using small mammals. This is a good time to remind ourselves of another H5N1 “whoopsie” a few years ago:

    Baxter Sent Bird Flu Virus to European Labs by Error (Update2)
    By Michelle Fay Cortez and Jason Gale – February 24, 2009 16:20 EST

    Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — Baxter International Inc. in Austria unintentionally contaminated samples with the bird flu virus that were used in laboratories in three neighboring countries, raising concern about the potential spread of the deadly disease.

    The contamination was discovered when ferrets at a laboratory in the Czech Republic died after being inoculated with vaccine made from the samples early this month. The material came from Deerfield, Illinois-based Baxter, which reported the incident to the Austrian Ministry of Health, Sigrid Rosenberger, a ministry spokeswoman, said today in a telephone interview.

    “This was infected with a bird flu virus,” Rosenberger said. “There were some people from the company who handled it.”

    The material was intended for use in laboratories, and none of the lab workers have fallen ill. The incident is drawing scrutiny over the safety of research using the H5N1 bird flu strain that’s killed more than three-fifths of the people known to have caught the bug worldwide. Some scientists say the 1977 Russian flu, the most recent global outbreak, began when a virus escaped from a laboratory.

    The virus material was supposed to contain a seasonal flu virus and was contaminated after “human error,” said Christopher Bona, a spokesman for Baxter, in a telephone interview.

    ‘Sanitized’

    Baxter “moved very quickly to sanitize and protect employees,” Bona said. “Labs have been sanitized, potentially contaminated materials have been destroyed and employees were tested and considered not to be at risk.”

    You have to watch out for those tainted samples when you’re in that business.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 2, 2012, 11:01 pm
  2. […] New strain of bird flu: Apocalyptic potential […]

    Posted by Miscellaneous articles for – Articles divers pour 01-04-2011 | Lys-d'Or | January 4, 2012, 12:57 pm
  3. I think the Doomsday Clock needs another nudge towards midnight.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 11, 2012, 7:05 pm
  4. That’s certainly not good news“:

    Bloomberg
    New Bird Flu Seen Having Some Markers of Airborne Killer
    By Simeon Bennett – Apr 6, 2013 7:50 AM CT

    The new bird influenza that’s killed six people in eastern China has some of the genetic hallmarks of an easily transmissible virus, according to the scientist who showed how H5N1 avian flu could become airborne.

    The H7N9 strain, which is a new virus formed as a result of two others merging their genetic material, has features of viruses that are known to jump easily from birds to mammals, and a mutation that may help it attach to cells in the respiratory tract, said Ron Fouchier, a professor of molecular virology at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, in a telephone interview yesterday.

    “That’s certainly not good news,” said Fouchier, who reviewed a gene sequencing of H7N9 published by Chinese health authorities. “This virus really doesn’t look like a bird virus anymore; it looks like a mammalian virus.”

    “Heightened vigilance needs to be in place at the moment,” said Anderson. While no human-to-human transmission has yet occurred, once an epidemic gets established, the doubling time can be very fast. “That’s why much needs to be done very thoroughly at the beginning to ascertain whether this is a risk or not.”

    Unlike H5N1, which is highly lethal for birds, H7N9 is a so-called low-pathogenic virus in birds, meaning it may be widespread without causing severe sickness, Fouchier said. That would make it difficult to eradicate, he said. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the virus will be mild in humans, he said.

    Spanish Flu

    The Spanish flu of 1918, which killed about 50 million people worldwide, wasn’t highly pathogenic in birds, he said. He and colleagues plan to test the new virus in ferrets to see how deadly and how easily transmissible it is, and to test vaccines and antiviral drugs against it.

    H7N9 also is more difficult to track because it’s not highly lethal to birds, said Alex Thiermann, technical adviser to the director general of the World Organisation for Animal Health in Paris.

    “That indicates we need to take very careful surveillance measures because it will not be as obvious as in 2001,” Thiermann said in a telephone interview yesterday. “Symptoms are not going to help us. The Chinese are doing an intensive surveillance on poultry, pigs and wildlife. We need to continue to do that intensively.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 6, 2013, 7:03 pm
  5. Austria and Netherlands… and another deadly flu virus…. Where have i seen that combination of indicators before? Does that mean another Great War is brewing? Which countries and which asshats sold nuke technology to the doughboy agitator dictator in North Korea? Wouldnt be the same identical core of asshats trying to shove another expensive war down America and the West’s throats now would it? (Think Rumsfeld and Swiss ABB who sold nuke tech to North Korea) Just what we all need… Another expensive Democracy crushing war. ask Ancient Rome how that worked out. Is it just me or is anyone else noticing a pattern here? the “pattern” being a nonstop assault on Western democracy(particularly targeted against USA) that really took off in 2001? and that seems to involve multiple international players working together to breakup democracies in order to prop up Authoritarian/Elite rule. maybe authoritarian China, Singapore, or Taiwan can tell us what it is like to be the new emerging Super economies? How did they do it? While the West is busy running around the world swatting a never ending stream of flies(terrorists) Eastern countries and a couple of European ones, are becoming the new centers of Economic power. what’s going on in the USA and elsewhere that they have allowed themselves to be manipulated into wars and deregulation and unbalanced free trade agreements that have wrecked their economies and destabilized their democracies? Unhinged western privatization has been great for China. You dont see China running around the world getting sucked into half a dozen wars and bankrupting itself. And who set Doughboy up to threaten the US with nuclear war? There seems to be this back and forth game between North Korea and Iran going bat guano crazy about every six months or so in an attempt to agitate the U.S. into overextending itself with another war. It is like those Bin Laden tapes used to suck the USA into war. They must know they would get smashed in a war against the U.S…. but since 2001 they have been cocksure of themselves in playing this game to agitate the USA.

    Posted by Mork | April 7, 2013, 4:20 pm
  6. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/04/01/is_this_a_pandemic_being_born_china_pigs_virus?page=full

    Is This a Pandemic Being Born?
    China’s mysterious pig, duck, and people deaths could be connected. And that should worry us.

    BY LAURIE GARRETT | APRIL 1, 2013

    Here’s how it would happen. Children playing along an urban river bank would spot hundreds of grotesque, bloated pig carcasses bobbing downstream. Hundreds of miles away, angry citizens would protest the rising stench from piles of dead ducks and swans, their rotting bodies collecting by the thousands along river banks. And three unrelated individuals would stagger into three different hospitals, gasping for air. Two would quickly die of severe pneumonia and the third would lay in critical condition in an intensive care unit for many days. Government officials would announce that a previously unknown virus had sickened three people, at least, and killed two of them. And while the world was left to wonder how the pigs, ducks, swans, and people might be connected, the World Health Organization would release deliberately terse statements, offering little insight.

    It reads like a movie plot — I should know, as I was a consultant for Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. But the facts delineated are all true, and have transpired over the last six weeks in China. The events could, indeed, be unrelated, and the new virus, a form of influenza denoted as H7N9, may have already run its course, infecting just three people and killing two.

    Or this could be how pandemics begin.

    On March 10, residents of China’s powerhouse metropolis, Shanghai, noticed some dead pigs floating among garbage flotsam in the city’s Huangpu River. The vile carcasses appeared in Shanghai’s most important tributary of the mighty Yangtze, a 71-mile river that is edged by the Bund, the city’s main tourist area, and serves as the primary source of drinking water and ferry travel for the 23 million residents of the metropolis and its millions of visitors. The vision of a few dead pigs on the surface of the Huangpu was every bit as jarring for local Chinese as porcine carcasses would be for French strolling the Seine, Londoners along the Thames, or New Yorkers looking from the Brooklyn Bridge down on the East River.

    And the nightmarish sight soon worsened, with more than 900 animal bodies found by sunset on that Sunday evening. The first few pig carcass numbers soon swelled into the thousands, turning Shanghai spring into a horror show that by March 20 would total more than 15,000 dead animals. The river zigzags its way from Zhejiang province, just to the south of Shanghai, a farming region inhabited by some 54 million people, and a major pork-raising district of China. Due to scandals over recent years in the pork industry, including substitution of rendered pig intestines for a toxic chemical, sold as heparin blood thinner that proved lethal to American cardiac patients, Chinese authorities had put identity tags on pigs’ ears. The pig carcasses were swiftly traced back to key farms in Zhejiang, and terrified farmers admitted that they had dumped the dead animals into the Huangpu.

    Few Chinese asked, “What killed the pigs?,” because river pollution is so heinous across China that today people simply assume manufacturing chemicals or pesticides fill the nation’s waterways, and are responsible for all such mysterious animals demises. The Yangtze, which feeds Shanghai’s Huangpu, has copper pollution levels that are 100 times higher than U.S. safety standards, and leather tanning facilities along the river have notoriously been responsible for toxic waste, including chromium. And across China — especially in Beijing — air pollution was so bad in January and February that pollution particulate levels routinely peaked at higher than 10 times the U.S. safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. When I was in Beijing in late January, the air pollution was so thick that it visually looked like fog, obscuring all sunlight and even skyscrapers located less than three city blocks away. So, hideous as the pig carcasses might be, Shanghai residents tended to shrug them off as yet another example of the trade-offs China is making, pitting prosperity against pollution.

    But 12 days after the first Shanghai porcine death flow was spotted, pig carcasses washed up along the shores of Changsha’s primary river, the Xiang — also a Yangtze tributary, this one located hundreds of miles west of Shanghai. Known as “the Sky City” for its 2,749-foot-tall central tower, Changsha is home to more than 7 million people and capital of Hunan province. Along with some 50 dead pigs, authorities collected a few thousand dead ducks from the Xiang on March 22 and 23.

    Two days later, another mass duck and swan die-off was spotted, this time along the Sichuan River hundreds of miles to the north, near Lake Qinghai. The lake is the most important transit and nesting site for migratory aquatic birds that travel the vast Asia flyway, stretching from central Siberia to southern Indonesia. In 2005, a mass die-off of aquatic birds in and around Lake Qinghai resulted from a mutational change in the long-circulating bird flu virus, H5N1 — a genetic shift that gave that virus a far larger species range, allowing H5N1 to spread for the first time across Russia, Ukraine and into Europe, the Middle East and North Africa — it has remained in circulation across the vast expanse of Earth for the last seven years.

    On March 25, Chinese authorities seized manufactured pork buns that were found to be made from Zhejiang pigs that had died of the mysterious ailment. The possibly contaminated pork was in the Chinese food supply. By the end of March, at least 20,000 pig carcasses and tens of thousands of ducks and swans had washed upon riverbanks that stretch from the Lake Qinghai area all the way to the East China Sea — a distance roughly equivalent to the span between Miami and Boston. Nobody knows how many more thousands of birds and pigs have died, but gone uncounted as farmers buried or burned the carcasses to avoid reprimands from authorities.

    While environmental clean-up and agricultural authorities scrambled to remove the unsightly corpses and provide the anxious public with less-than-believable explanations for their demise, a seemingly separate human drama was unfolding. On Feb. 19, a man identified by Xinhua, China’s state news agency, only as Li, an 87-year old retiree, was hospitalized in Shanghai with severe respiratory distress and pneumonia. On March 4, Li went into severe cardio-respiratory failure and succumbed.

    On Feb. 27, a man identified only as Wu, a 27-year-old butcher or meat processor, fell ill with respiratory distress, was hospitalized, and died on March 10. The day Wu succumbed a third individual, a 35-year-old woman identified as Han, was hospitalized in the city of Nanjing, though she came from distant Chuzhou City, in Anhui province, about 300 miles northwest of Shanghai. Han is reportedly in critical condition, in intensive care. To date, no connection between the three individuals has been found.

    The elderly Li may have been part of a family cluster of illness, as his 55-year old son died of pneumonia in March, and another 67-year-old son suffered respiratory distress, but has survived.

    On March 31 — Easter in the United States — China’s newly created National Health and Family Planning Commission (which includes the former Ministry of Health) announced that 87-year-old Li, Wu, and Han all were infected with a form of influenza denoted as H7N9 — a type of flu never previously known to infect human beings. The commission insisted that Li’s two sons (one dead, the other a survivor) were not infected with the flu virus — their ailments were reportedly coincidental, though they occurred at the same time as the elder Li’s demise.

    So much for the backstory: What is going on?

    According to Chinese authorities, some of the dead pigs tested antibody-positive for circoviruses, or PCV-2, and samples of the virus were isolated from Huangpu River. The implication was that the Shanghai pigs died of PCV-2, a type of virus that is harmless to human beings, as well as birds. Photographs of the carcasses reveal that the animals were large adult hogs, but PCV-2 does not kill adult pigs — it is lethal to fetuses and newborn piglets.

    The Chinese health authorities have to date offered no cause of death for the ducks and swans, failed to describe any unusual genetic features that might have turned the PCV-2 into an adult pig-killer virus, and insisted there is no connection between the pigs, people, and birds. Though the surviving woman, Han, had some contact with live chickens, according to Xinhua, neither Li nor Wu had any known contact with birds. Wu has been identified variously as a butcher, meat processor, and employee of a meat plant — all of which might imply he had contact with pigs.

    Influenzas are named according to the specific nature of two proteins found on the virus — the H stands for hemaggluntinin and the N for neuraminidase. These proteins play various roles in the flu-infection process, including latching onto receptors on the outside of the cells of animals to transmit the virus into their bodies. Those receptors can vary widely from one species to another, which is why most types of influenza viruses spreading now around the world are harmless to human beings. As far as any scientists know, the H7N9 forms of flu have never previously managed to infect human beings, or any mammals — it is a class of the virus found exclusively in birds. It is therefore extremely worrying to find two people killed and one barely surviving due to H7N9 infection.

    One very plausible explanation for this chain of Chinese events is that the H7N9 virus has undergone a mutation — perhaps among spring migrating birds around Lake Qinghai. The mutation rendered the virus lethal for domestic ducks and swans. Because many Chinese farmers raise both pigs and ducks, the animals can share water supplies and be in fighting proximity over food — the spread of flu from ducks to pigs, transforming avian flu into swine flu, has occurred many times. Once influenza adapts to pig cells, it is often possible for the virus to take human-transmissible form. That’s precisely what happened in 2009 with the H1N1 swine flu, which spread around the world in a massive, but thankfully not terribly virulent, pandemic.

    If the pigs, people, and birds have died in China from H7N9, it is imperative and urgent that the biological connection be made, and extensive research be done to determine how widespread human infection may be. Shanghai health authorities have tested dozens of people known to have been in contact with Wu and Li, none of whom have come up positive for H7N9 infection. Assuming the tests are accurate, the mystery of Li and Wu’s infections only deepens. Moreover, if they are a “two of three,” meaning two dead, of three known cases, the H7N9 virus is very virulent.

    “At this point, these three are isolated cases with no evidence of human-to-human transmission”, the WHO representative in China, Dr. Michael O’Leary, told reporters on Monday. But, O’Leary added, the possibility of a family cluster of illness could not be ruled out, and, “We don’t know yet the causes of illness in the two sons, but naturally, if three people in one family acquire severe pneumonia in a short period of time, it raises a lot of concern.”

    But Hong Kong authorities, smarting from years of outbreaks spread from mainland China including H5N1 (1997) and SARS (2003), have put the territory on health alert. “We will heighten our vigilance and continue to maintain stringent port health measures in connection with this development,” the Centre for Health Protection in Hong Kong stated in a press release on Monday.

    The Chinese National Influenza Center has posted the H7N9 genetic sequences of viruses from Li, Wu, and Han on the WHO flu site. A number of H7N9 sequences found in birds over the last few years are also posted: The human and bird strains do not match, though none of the birds strains were obtained from animals in 2013.

    The mystery is deep, the clock is ticking, and the world wants answers.

    If we were imagining how a terrible pandemic would unfold, this could certainly serve as an excellent script.

    Posted by Vanfield | April 8, 2013, 9:50 pm
  7. Ummm…

    How China’s bird flu infects humans remains unclear
    Experts from World Health Organization to visit Chinese labs, affected areas
    The Associated Press
    Posted: Apr 18, 2013 1:30 PM ET
    Last Updated: Apr 18, 2013 1:28 PM ET

    Almost three weeks after China reported finding a new strain of bird flu in humans, experts are still stumped by how people are becoming infected when many appear to have had no recent contact with live fowl and the virus isn’t supposed to pass from person to person.

    The uncertainty adds to challenges the Chinese government is facing in trying to control the spread of the H7N9 bird flu virus that has already killed 17 people and infected 70 others in the country, mostly along the eastern seaboard.

    “To me, the biggest question is the link between the virus in birds and how it gets to humans. This is not clear,” said Dr. Bai Chunxue, a prominent respiratory expert in Shanghai who treated one of the first cases of the virus, a family cluster involving an 87-year-old man and his two sons. Bai said other family members he talked to said the patients had no contact with birds or poultry.

    “So this is indeed a mystery,” Bai said in a telephone interview.

    Theories among experts about how the virus may be spreading run from the ways poultry is slaughtered in markets to infected droppings from migratory birds. Understanding how the H7N9 bird flu virus is spreading is a goal of international and Chinese experts assembled by the World Health Organization as they begin a weeklong investigation Friday.

    Helen Yu, the World Health Organization’s spokeswoman in China, said the experts, who started arriving Thursday, will visit laboratories and affected areas in Beijing and Shanghai.

    China announced the first known cases on March 31, sparking concern among experts worldwide because it was the first time the H7N9 strain of bird flu has been known to infect humans. They fear the virus could mutate in a way that allows it to spread easily among people, but so far there has been no sign of sustained human-to-human transmission.

    Chinese health officials have said people may be getting sick from direct contact with infected live birds, pointing to cases of patients who have been working in the poultry trade. The virus has been detected in live poultry, leading to mass slaughters and closures of live fowl markets.

    Bird contact questions

    However, as China continues to report new cases, about 40 per cent of patients have no apparent history of exposure to poultry or other birds, making the virus “very difficult to understand,” said Dr. Masato Tashiro, director of WHO’s influenza research center in Tokyo.

    Tashiro noted that proof of the assertion that contact with birds is causing the cases is missing. “They didn’t show any direct evidence. That’s only speculation still. It’s possible, likely, but there’s no evidence,” he said.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 18, 2013, 12:32 pm
  8. “When we look at influenza viruses, this is an unusually dangerous virus for humans”. Time for humanity to dodge another biological bullet:

    WHO says new bird strain is “one of most lethal” flu viruses

    By Sui-Lee Wee and Kate Kelland

    BEIJING/LONDON | Wed Apr 24, 2013 7:13am EDT

    (Reuters) – A new bird flu strain that has killed 22 people in China is “one of the most lethal” of its kind and transmits more easily to humans than another strain that has killed hundreds since 2003, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said on Wednesday.

    The H7N9 flu has infected 108 people in China since it was first detected in March, according to the Geneva-based WHO.

    Although it is not clear exactly how people are being infected, experts say they see no evidence so far of the most worrisome scenario – sustained transmission between people.

    An international team of scientists led by the WHO and the Chinese government conducted a five-day investigation in China, but said they were no closer to determining whether the virus might become transmissible between people.

    “The situation remains complex and difficult and evolving,” said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security.

    “When we look at influenza viruses, this is an unusually dangerous virus for humans,” he said at a briefing.

    Another bird flu strain – H5N1 – has killed 30 of the 45 people it infected in China between 2003 and 2013, and although the H7N9 strain in the current outbreak has a lower fatality rate to date, Fukuda said: “This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses that we’ve seen so far.”

    Scientists who have analyzed genetic sequence data from samples from three H7N9 victims say the strain is a so-called “triple reassortant” virus with a mixture of genes from three other flu strains found in birds in Asia.

    Recent pandemic viruses, including the H1N1 “swine flu” of 2009/2010, have been mixtures of mammal and bird flu – hybrids that are more likely to be milder because mammalian flu tends to make people less severely ill than bird flu.

    Pure bird flu strains, such as the new H7N9 strain and the H5N1 flu, which has killed about 371 of 622 the people it has infected since 2003, are generally more deadly for people.

    UNSETTLING

    The team of experts, who began their investigation in China last week, said one problem in tracking H7N9 is the absence of visible illness in poultry.

    Fukuda stressed that the team is still at the beginning of its investigation, and said that “we may just be seeing the most serious infections” at this point.

    Based on the evidence, “this virus is more easily transmissible from poultry to humans than H5N1”, he said.

    Besides the initial cases of H7N9 in and around Shanghai, others have been detected in Beijing and five provinces. On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Health Department said a businessman had contracted H7N9 while travelling in China and was in a serious condition in hospital.

    Samples from chickens, ducks and pigeons from poultry markets have tested positive for H7N9, but those from migratory birds have not, suggesting that “the likely source of infection is poultry”, said Nancy Cox, director of the influenza division at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    John Oxford, a flu virologist at Queen Mary University of London, said the emergence of human H7N9 infections – a completely new strain in people – was “very, very unsettling”.

    “This virus seems to have been quietly spreading in chickens without anyone knowing about it,” he told Reuters in London.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 25, 2013, 6:59 am
  9. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/appalling-irresponsibility-senior-scientists-attack-chinese-researchers-for-creating-new-strains-of-influenza-virus-in-veterinary-laboratory-8601658.html

    ‘Appalling irresponsibility’: Senior scientists attack Chinese researchers for creating new strains of influenza virus in veterinary laboratory

    Experts warn of danger that the new viral strains created by mixing bird-flu virus with human influenza could escape from the laboratory to cause a global pandemic killing millions of people.
    Steve Connor Author

    Thursday 02 May 2013

    Senior scientists have criticised the “appalling irresponsibility” of researchers in China who have deliberately created new strains of influenza virus in a veterinary laboratory.

    They warned there is a danger that the new viral strains created by mixing bird-flu virus with human influenza could escape from the laboratory to cause a global pandemic killing millions of people.

    Lord May of Oxford, a former government chief scientist and past president of the Royal Society, denounced the study published today in the journal Science as doing nothing to further the understanding and prevention of flu pandemics.

    “They claim they are doing this to help develop vaccines and such like. In fact the real reason is that they are driven by blind ambition with no common sense whatsoever,” Lord May told The Independent.

    “The record of containment in labs like this is not reassuring. They are taking it upon themselves to create human-to-human transmission of very dangerous viruses. It’s appallingly irresponsible,” he said.

    The controversial study into viral mixing was carried out by a team led by Professor Hualan Chen, director of China’s National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute.

    Professor Chen and her colleagues deliberately mixed the H5N1 bird-flu virus, which is highly lethal but not easily transmitted between people, with a 2009 strain of H1N1 flu virus, which is very infectious to humans.

    When flu viruses come together by infecting the same cell they can swap genetic material and produce “hybrids” through the re-assortment of genes. The researchers were trying to emulate what happens in nature when animals such as pigs are co-infected with two different strains of virus, Professor Chen said.

    “The studies demonstrated that H5N1 viruses have the potential to acquire mammalian transmissibility by re-assortment with the human influenza viruses,” Professor Chen said in an email.

    “This tells us that high attention should be paid to monitor the emergence of such mammalian-transmissible virus in nature to prevent a possible pandemic caused by H5N1 virus,” she said.

    “It is difficult to say how easy this will happen, but since the H5N1 and 2009/H1N1 viruses are widely existing in nature, they may have a chance to re-assort,” she added.

    The study, which was carried out in a laboratory with the second highest security level to prevent accidental escape, resulted in 127 different viral hybrids between H5N1 and H1N1, five of which were able to pass by airborne transmission between laboratory guinea pigs.

    Professor Simon Wain-Hobson, an eminent virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said it is very likely that some or all of these hybrids could pass easily between humans and possess some or all of the highly lethal characteristics of H5N1 bird-flu.

    “Nobody can extrapolate to humans except to conclude that the five viruses would probably transmit reasonable well between humans,” Professor Wain-Hobson said.

    “We don’t know the pathogenicity [lethality] in man and hopefully we will never know. But if the case fatality rate was between 0.1 and 20 per cent, and a pandemic affected 500 million people, you could estimate anything between 500,000 and 100 million deaths,” he said.

    “It’s a fabulous piece of virology by the Chinese group and it’s very impressive, but they haven’t been thinking clearly about what they are doing. It’s very worrying,” Professor Wain-Hobson said.

    “The virological basis of this work is not strong. It is of no use for vaccine development and the benefit in terms of surveillance for new flu viruses is oversold,” he added.

    An increasing number of scientists outside the influenza field have expressed concern over attempts to deliberately increase the human transmissibility of the H5N1 bird-flu virus. This is done by mutating the virus so that it can pass by airborne droplets between laboratory ferrets, the standard “animal model” of human influenza.

    Two previous studies, by Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, caused uproar in 2011 when it emerged that they had created airborne versions of H5N1 that could be passed between ferrets.

    The criticism led to researchers to impose a voluntary moratorium on their H5N1 research, banning transmission studies using ferrets. However they decided to lift the ban earlier this year, arguing that they have now consulted widely with health organisations and the public over safety concerns.

    However, other scientists have criticised the decision to lift the moratorium.

    Posted by Vanfield | May 3, 2013, 2:02 pm
  10. A few hundred million dead gooks and chinks would only be a good thing.

    Posted by Ian Santiago | May 4, 2013, 5:29 pm
  11. And the Doomsday Clock goes tick tock tick tock:

    Drug resistance in new China bird flu raises concern

    By Ben Hirschler

    LONDON | Tue May 28, 2013 10:10am EDT

    (Reuters) – The new bird flu strain that has killed 36 people in China has proved resistant to Tamiflu for the first time, a development scientists said was “concerning”.

    The H7N9 virus was found to be resistant to Roche’s widely used flu drug in three out of 14 patients who were studied in detail by doctors from Shanghai and Hong Kong.

    Tamiflu, which is given as a pill, belongs to a group of medicines known as neuraminidase inhibitors that currently offer the only known treatment option for bird flu. GlaxoSmithKline’s inhaled medicine Relenza has the same mode of action.

    In one patient, the gene mutation responsible for resistance appears to have arisen after infection took hold, probably as a result of treatment with Tamiflu, leading to concerns that medication may be the trigger for resistance to develop.

    “The apparent ease with which antiviral resistance emerges in A/H7N9 viruses is concerning; it needs to be closely monitored and considered in future pandemic response plans,” the researchers wrote in an article published online by The Lancet medical journal on Tuesday.

    Earlier genetic studies had raised worries about drug resistance but this is the first time that the problem has been documented in clinical cases.

    For most of the 14 patients studied, Tamiflu successfully reduced the amount of virus found in throat swabs and helped speed clinical recovery. But it had no impact on the amount of virus found in swabs from three patients who became severely ill.

    A spokeswoman for Swiss-based drugmaker Roche said rates of Tamiflu resistance remained low globally, but it took the issue of resistance “very seriously” and was collaborating with health authorities to monitor the situation.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 28, 2013, 7:45 am
  12. What time is it? Well, as of January of 2014 it’s 5 minutes to midnight. Tick tock tick tock…

    Los Angeles Times
    Deadly H5N1 bird flu needs just 5 mutations to spread easily in people

    By Monte Morin This post has been updated, as indicated below.

    April 10, 2014, 3:14 p.m.

    It’s a flu virus so deadly that scientists once halted research on the disease because governments feared it might be used by terrorists to stage a biological attack.

    Yet despite the fact that the H5N1 avian influenza has killed 60% of the 650 humans known to be infected since it was identified in Hong Kong 17 years ago, the “bird flu” virus has yet to evolve a means of spreading easily among people.

    Now Dutch researchers have found that the virus needs only five favorable gene mutations to become transmissible through coughing or sneezing, like regular flu viruses.

    World health officials have long feared that the H5N1 virus will someday evolve a knack for airborne transmission, setting off a devastating pandemic. While the new study suggests the mutations needed are relatively few, it remains unclear whether they’re likely to happen outside the laboratory.

    “This certainly does not mean that H5N1 is now more likely to cause a pandemic,” said Ron Fouchier, a virologist at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and coauthor of the study published Thursday in the journal Cell. “But it does mean that we should not exclude the possibility that it might happen.”

    As with many other influenza studies, the scientists used ferrets as the stand-in for humans, because their immune system responds similarly to the disease.

    Prior research had established that H5N1 could become contagious in ferrets if the virus was passed through a succession of animals, essentially forcing the virus to evolve at an accelerated rate. In those experiments, Fouchier and his colleagues found that the newly contagious viruses had accumulated nine or more mutations.

    In the new study, the authors set out to determine the minimum number of mutations necessary for airborne infection.

    By exposing ferrets and human tissue samples to a variety of genetically altered viruses, study authors identified five key gene mutations.

    Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, said that although the study provided a valuable list of genetic traits to look for, the most important question for scientists and health officials remained unanswered.

    “The biggest unknown is whether the viruses are likely to gain the critical mutations naturally,” Webby said. “If they can appear readily, then it is very worrisome. If not, then there’s still a major hurdle that these viruses have to get over to become human-transmissible.”

    So, basically, with a handful a mutations can be induced by spreading the virus nose to nose from one mammal to another. But we’re not supposed to worry too much because that kind of scenario is SO unlikely to happen in nature. Especially amongst humans. Nothing to worry about folks!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 11, 2014, 7:48 am
  13. http://thebulletin.org/threatened-pandemics-and-laboratory-escapes-self-fulfilling-prophecies7016

    Threatened pandemics and laboratory escapes: Self-fulfilling prophecies
    Martin Furmanski

    Martin Furmanski is a medical doctor and medical historian whose major research interests are investigating the development, use, and allegations of use of chemical and biological weapons.

    The public health danger from the escape, from laboratories, of viruses capable of causing pandemics has become the subject of considerable, well-merited discussion, spurred by “gain of function” experiments. The ostensible goal of these experiments— in which researchers manipulate already-dangerous pathogens to create or increase communicability among humans—is to develop tools to monitor the natural emergence of pandemic strains. Opponents, however, warn that the risk of laboratory escape of these high-consequence pathogens far outweighs any potential advance. These arguments appear in a variety of recent research papers, including Rethinking Biosafety in Research on Potential Pandemic Pathogens; The Human Fatality and Economic Burden of a Man-made Influenza Pandemic: A Risk Assessment; Containing the Accidental Laboratory Escape of Potential Pandemic Influenza Viruses; and Response to Letter by the European Society for Virology on “Gain-of-Function” Influenza Research.

    The risk of a manmade pandemic sparked by a laboratory escape is not hypothetical: One occurred in 1977, and it occurred because of concern that a natural pandemic was imminent. Many other laboratory escapes of high-consequence pathogens have occurred, resulting in transmission beyond laboratory personnel. Ironically, these laboratories were working with pathogens to prevent the very outbreaks they ultimately caused. For that reason, the tragic consequences have been called “self-fulfilling prophecies.”

    Modern genetic analysis allows pathogens to be precisely identified, and because all circulating pathogens show genetic changes over time, the year that a particular example of a pathogen emerged can generally be determined, given a sufficient database of samples. If a pathogen appears in nature after not circulating for years or decades, it may be assumed to have escaped from a laboratory where it had been stored inert for many years, accumulating no genetic changes; that is, its natural evolution had been frozen.

    The swine flu scare of 1976 and the H1N1 human influenza pandemic of 1977. Human H1N1 influenza virus appeared with the 1918 global pandemic, and persisted, slowly accumulating small genetic changes, until 1957, when it appeared to go extinct after the H2N2 pandemic virus appeared. In 1976, H1N1 swine influenza virus struck Fort Dix, causing 13 hospitalizations and one death. The specter of a reprise of the deadly 1918 pandemic triggered an unprecedented effort to immunize all Americans. No swine H1N1 pandemic materialized, however, and complications of immunization truncated the program after 48 million immunizations, which eventually caused 25 deaths.

    Human H1N1 virus reappeared in 1977, in the Soviet Union and China. Virologists, using serologic and early genetic tests soon began to suggest the cause of the reappearance was a laboratory escape of a 1949-1950 virus, and as genomic techniques advanced, it became clear that this was true. By 2010, researchers published it as fact: “The most famous case of a released laboratory strain is the re-emergent H1N1 influenza-A virus which was first observed in China in May of 1977 and in Russia shortly thereafter.” The virus may have escaped from a lab attempting to prepare an attenuated H1N1 vaccine in response to the US swine flu pandemic alert.

    The 1977 pandemic spread rapidly worldwide but was limited to those under 20 years of age: Older persons were immune from exposures before 1957. Its attack rate was high (20 to 70 percent) in schools and military camps, but mercifully it caused mild disease, and fatalities were few. It continued to circulate until 2009, when the pH1N1 virus replaced it. There has been virtually no public awareness of the 1977 H1N1 pandemic and its laboratory origins, despite the clear analogy to current concern about a potential H5N1 or H7N9 avian influenza pandemic and “gain of function” experiments. The consequences of escape of a highly lethal avian virus with enhanced transmissibility would almost certainly be much graver than the 1977 escape of a “seasonal,” possibly attenuated strain to a population with substantial existing immunity.

    Smallpox releases in Great Britain. Eradication of natural smallpox transmission made the prospect of reintroduction of the virus intolerable. This risk was clearly demonstrated in the United Kingdom, where from 1963-1978 only four cases of smallpox (with no deaths) occurred that were imported by travelers from areas where smallpox was endemic, while during this same period at least 80 cases and three deaths resulted from three separate escapes from two different accredited smallpox laboratories.

    The first recognized laboratory escape, in March 1972, occurred with the infection of a laboratory assistant at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She had observed the harvesting of live smallpox virus from eggs used as a growing medium; the process was performed on an uncontained lab table, as was then routine. Hospitalized, but before she was placed in isolation, she infected two visitors to a patient in an adjacent bed, both of whom died. They in turn infected a nurse, who survived, as did the laboratory assistant.

    In August of 1978, a medical photographer at Birmingham Medical School developed smallpox and died. She infected her mother, who survived. Her workplace was immediately above the smallpox laboratory at Birmingham Medical School. Faulty ventilation and shortcomings in technique were ultimately implicated.

    Investigators then re-examined a 1966 smallpox outbreak, which was strikingly similar. The initial 1966 infection was also a medical photographer who worked at the same Birmingham Medical School facility. The earlier outbreak was caused by a low-virulence strain of smallpox (variola minor), and it caused at least 72 subsequent cases. There were no deaths. Laboratory logs revealed variola minor had been manipulated in the smallpox laboratory at a time appropriate to cause the infection in the photographer working a floor above.

    Venezuelan equine encephalitis in 1995. Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) is a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes. It intermittently erupts in regional or continental-scale outbreaks that involve equines (horses, donkeys, and mules) in the Western Hemisphere. There are often concurrent zoonotic epidemics among humans. VEE in humans causes a severe febrile illness; it can occasionally be fatal or may leave permanent neurological disability (epilepsy, paralysis, or mental retardation) in 4 to 14 percent of clinical cases, particularly those involving children.

    There were significant outbreaks of VEE every few years from the 1930s to the 1970s. Modern analysis revealed most outbreaks were genetic matches to the original 1938 VEE isolation used in inactivated veterinary vaccines. It was clear that many batches of the veterinary VEE vaccines had not been completely inactivated, so residual infective virus remained.

    From 1938 to 1972, the VEE vaccine caused most of the very outbreaks that it was called upon to prevent, a clear self-fulfilling prophecy.

    In 1995 a major VEE animal and human outbreak struck Venezuela and Colombia. There were at least 10,000 human VEE cases with 11 deaths in Venezuela and an estimated 75,000 human cases in Colombia, with 3,000 neurological complications and 300 deaths. VEE virus was isolated from 10 stillborn or miscarried human fetuses.

    Genomic analysis identified the 1995 virus as identical to a 1963 isolate, with no indication it had been circulating for 28 years. It was another case of frozen evolution, but unlike the vaccine-related VEE outbreaks, the 1963 virus had never been used in a vaccine. Suspicion fell on an inadvertent release from a virology lab, either by an unrecognized infection of a lab worker or visitor, or escape of an infected laboratory animal or mosquito. The major scientific group working on VEE published a paper in 2001 stating the 1995 outbreak most likely was a laboratory escape, with considerable circumstantial evidence: The outbreak strain was isolated from an incompletely inactivated antigen preparation used on the open bench in the VEE laboratory located at the outbreak epicenter. But clear proof was lacking, and the group subsequently said it was reconsidering this conclusion.

    SARS outbreaks after the SARS epidemic. The 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak spread to 29 countries, causing more than 8,000 infections and at least 774 deaths. Because 21 percent of cases involved hospital workers, it had the potential to shut down health care services wherever it struck. It is particularly dangerous to handle in the laboratory because there is no vaccine, and it can be transmitted via aerosols.

    Moreover, about five percent of SARS patients are “super-spreaders” who infect eight or more secondary cases. For instance, one patient spread SARS directly to 33 others (reflecting an infection rate of 45 percent) during a hospitalization, ultimately leading to the infection of 77 people, including three secondary super-spreaders. A super-spreader could turn even a single laboratory infection into a potential pandemic.

    SARS has not re-emerged naturally, but there have been six escapes from virology labs: one each in Singapore and Taiwan, and four separate escapes at the same laboratory in Beijing.

    The first was in Singapore in August 2003, in a virology graduate student at the National University of Singapore. He had not worked directly with SARS, but it was present in the laboratory where he worked. He recovered and produced no secondary cases. The World Health Organization formed an expert committee to revise SARS biosafety guidelines.

    The second escape was in Taiwan in December 2003, when a SARS research scientist fell ill on a return flight after attending a medical meeting in Singapore. His 74 contacts in Singapore were quarantined, but again, fortunately, none developed SARS. Investigation revealed the scientist had handled leaking biohazard waste without gloves, a mask, or a gown. Ironically, the WHO expert committee called for augmented biosafety in SARS laboratories the day after this case was reported.

    In April 2004, China reported a case of SARS in a nurse who had cared for a researcher at the Chinese National Institute of Virology (NIV). While ill, the researcher had traveled twice by train from Beijing to Anhui province, where she was nursed by her mother, a physician, who fell ill and died. The nurse in turn infected five third-generation cases, causing no deaths.

    Subsequent investigation uncovered three unrelated laboratory infections in different researchers at the NIV. At least of two primary patients had never worked with live SARS virus. Many shortcomings in biosecurity were found at the NIV, and the specific cause of the outbreak was traced to an inadequately inactivated preparation of SARS virus that was used in general (that is, not biosecure) laboratory areas, including one where the primary cases worked. It had not been tested to confirm its safety after inactivation, as it should have been.

    Foot and mouth disease in the UK in 2007. Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) infects cloven-hoofed animals such as pigs, sheep, and cattle. It has been eradicated in North America and most of Europe. It is highly transmissible, capable of spreading through direct contact on the boots of farm workers and by natural aerosol that can spread up to 250 kilometers. Outbreaks in FMD-free areas cause economic disaster because meat exports cease and animals are massively culled. A 2001 UK outbreak resulted in 10 million animals killed and $16 billion in economic losses.

    In 2007, FMD appeared again in Britain, four kilometers from a biosafety level 4 laboratory—a designation indicating the highest level of lab security—located at Pirbright. The strain had caused a 1967 outbreak in the United Kingdom but was not then circulating in animals anywhere. It was, however, used in vaccine manufacture at the Pirbright facility. Investigations concluded that construction vehicles had carried mud contaminated with FMD from a defective wastewater line at Pirbright to the first farm. That outbreak identified 278 infected animals and required 1,578 animals to be culled. It disrupted UK agricultural production and exports and cost an estimated 200 million pounds.

    Federal law bans FMD virus from the continental United States, and it is held only at the US Department of Agriculture Plum Island facility off Long Island. Currently, however, its replacement, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, is under construction in Manhattan, Kansas, under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security. Moving FMD research to the agricultural heartland of the United States was opposed by many groups, including the Government Accountability Office, but Homeland Security decided on the Kansas location. In upgrading facilities to counter the threat of agro-bioterrorism, the department is increasing the risk to US agriculture of unintentional release.

    Dangerous themes. These narratives of escaped pathogens have common themes. There are unrecognized technical flaws in standard biocontainment, as demonstrated in the UK smallpox and FMD cases. Inadequately inactivated preparations of dangerous pathogens are handled in laboratory areas with reduced biosecurity levels, as demonstrated in the SARS and VEE escapes. The first infection, or index case, happens in a person not working directly with the pathogen that infects him or her, as in the smallpox and SARS escapes. Poor training of personnel and slack oversight of laboratory procedures negate policy efforts by national and international bodies to achieve biosecurity, as shown in the SARS and smallpox escapes.

    It is hardly reassuring that, despite stepwise technical improvements in containment facilities and increased policy demands for rigorous biosecurity procedures in the handling of dangerous pathogens, potentially high consequence breaches of biocontainment occur nearly daily: In 2010, 244 unintended releases of bioweapon candidate “select agents” were reported.

    Looking at the problem pragmatically, the question is not if such escapes will result in a major civilian outbreak, but rather what the pathogen will be and how such an escape may be contained, if indeed it can be contained at all.

    Experiments that augment virulence and transmissibility of dangerous pathogens have been funded and performed, notably with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. The advisability of performing such experiments at all—particularly in laboratories placed at universities in heavily populated urban areas, where potentially exposed laboratory personnel are in daily contact with a multitude of susceptible and unaware citizens—is clearly in question.

    If such manipulations should be allowed at all, it would seem prudent to conduct them in isolated laboratories where personnel are sequestered from the general public and must undergo a period of exit quarantine before re-entering civilian life. The historical record tells us it is not a matter of if but when ignoring such measures will cost health and even lives. Perhaps many lives.

    Editor’s note: This essay summarizes a more detailed review of the historical record with appropriate scientific references; it is available on the website of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The author thanks Lynn Klotz and Ed Sylvester for help with condensing the longer report for this article.

    Posted by Vanfield | April 14, 2014, 9:24 am
  14. 2349 vials of SARS on the wall, if one of the vials happens to fall…

    Vf

    http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/sars-research-lab-loses-2000-tubes-killer-virus-1444924
    Sars Research Lab Loses 2,000 Tubes of Killer Virus

    Umberto Bacchi
    By Umberto Bacchi
    April 15, 2014 13:55 GMT
    4690 499 25

    France’s Research Institute Lost 2,000 Tubes Sars Virus
    The Pasteur Institute in Paris reported it lost 2,349 tubes containing Sars virusReuters

    A prestigious research institute in France said it had lost thousands of tubes of samples of the deadly Sars coronavirus.

    A routine inventory check at Paris’ Pasteur Institute revealed that 2,349 tubes containing fragments of the virus responsible for the deaths of 774 people in 2002 were missing, the centre named after French chemist Louis Pasteur said.

    The institute was quick to reassure the public and said that the contents of the missing vials had no infectious potential. They contained only part of the virus and had no ability to spread.

    “Independent experts referred by health authorities have qualified such potential as ‘non-existing’ according to the available evidence and literature on the survival of the Sars virus,” the institute said.

    In 2002 more than 8,000 people were infected by a pandemic of Sars – severe acute respiratory syndrome. The virus spread from China through Hong Kong and on to other countries before it was eventually brought under control.

    It is not clear how the tubes disappeared from one of the institute’s safest laboratories. Management were made aware of the loss in January, Le Monde newspaper reported.

    For weeks, staff at the institute tried to find the missing vials, general director Christian Bréchot said.

    “We’ve looked for those boxes [containing the tubes] everywhere,” Bréchot explained.

    “We went thought the lists of all the people who have worked here in the past year and a half, including trainees. We have scrutinised their profile to check if there was any conflict.”

    Bréchot said that foul play was “highly improbable” but had not been ruled out.

    The tubes were stored in a high-security laboratory dedicated to research into highly infective viruses.

    Access to the lab is limited to a restricted number of personnel, who have to go through a disinfection process before they can leave.

    Bréchot suggested that the tubes, which were moved from one freezer to another in March 2013, might have been destroyed by a member of staff who forgot to record the procedure.

    Sars is an airborne virus, which spreads in a similar way to flu and the common cold.

    The Agency for the Safety of Health Products has opened an investigation into the missing tubes.

    Posted by Vanfield | April 20, 2014, 12:25 pm

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