After scientists have engineered a new strain of H5N1, commonly known as bird flu, which is readily transmitted between humans, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the principal journal of the American College of Physicians, has published two perspectives online in advance, in which concerns are raised as to whether or not this research should be continued, and how the data should be shared for the benefit of public health. The H5N1 virus that is circulating at present has an extremely high mortality rate, killing approximately 60% of the more than 500 confirmed human incidents, but in comparison to seasonal flu, this strain has not has not spread easily amongst humans. Two research teams, who bear no relationship with the perspective of Annals authors, have recently engineered the H5N1 virus to make it readily transmissible between ferrets, meaning that it may also be able to make it easily transmissible between humans.
US scientists propose that flu pandemics follow La NiĆ a weather conditions in the equatorial Pacific. The conditions alter bird migration patterns and this promotes new strains of flu (migrating birds are known to be primary pools of human influenza virus). However, since La NiĆ a occurs more frequently than global flu pandemics, the researchers suggest other factors must also come into it, and their findings are just one piece of the puzzle. Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health, write about their findings in a paper due to be published in PNAS this week. Shaman is assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. He said in a statement that: "We know that pandemics arise from dramatic changes in the influenza genome.
A new diagnosis technique developed by researchers at the RIKEN Omics Science Center (OSC) has succeeded in detecting influenza virus infection in only 40 minutes and with one hundred times the sensitivity of conventional methods. Clinical research conducted in 2009 and 2010 confirms the new technique accurately identified the 2009 pandemic (pdm) influenza virus in Japanese patients less than 24 hours after fever onset, much faster than standard diagnostic tests. The human-to-human transmission of new, highly pathogenic strains of influenza virus poses today a major threat to human health and to the security of global society. With its rapid global spread, the 2009 pandemic (pdm) influenza virus reminded the world of this threat, resulting in an estimated 18, 000 deaths worldwide. In Japan, infected patients over the winter season of 2009 accounted for a staggering 16% of the total population.
Research on the H5N1 influenza (bird flu) virus' human transmissibility is seriously starting to worry WHO (World Health Organization) experts - in a written statement, the authors express concern about the potential risks linked to this research. The possible negative consequences of some experiments are serious and potentially dangerous. However, WHO adds that in cases where scientists work under the strictest of conditions, experiments should continue so that the fight against bird flu may progress. The H5N1 flu virus does not infect humans easily or often. However, it currently kills 60% of those it does infect. Experts fear that bird flu viruses might eventually genetically adapt so that they spread easily from human-to-human, resulting in a devastating flu pandemic. Bird flu is also known as avian flu.
Two years ago, pharmaceutical giant, Roche, promised the BMJ to release key Tamiflu trial data for an independent investigation. However, Roche refuses to provide full access to all its data. According to a new report by the Cochrane Collaboration, Roche's refusal to provide access leaves critical concerns about how the drug works unresolved. A BMJ investigation, published at the same time as the report, also voices serious concerns regarding drug data access, the drug approval process and the use of ghostwriters in drug trials. Because Tamiflu has become a common influenza treatment in the UK, with the World Health Organization also adding the drug onto their list of Essential Medicines, Roche continues to declare that it is supported by influential health agencies. When Cochrane researchers decided to investigate into Roche's claim that Tamiflu prevented complications and reduced the number of people in need of hospitalization, they found their investigation to be jeopardized by Roche's refusal to provide all of its trial data for analysis.