Research into lab-bred bird flu given ‘pause’

Scientists who created easier-to-spread versions of the deadly bird flu said Friday they are temporarily halting more research, as international specialists debate what should happen next.

WASHINGTON — Scientists who created easier-to-spread versions of the deadly bird flu said Friday they are temporarily halting more research, as international specialists debate what should happen next.

Researchers from leading flu laboratories around the world signed onto the voluntary moratorium, published Friday in the journals Science and Nature.

What the scientists called a “pause” comes amid fierce controversy over how to handle research that is high-risk but potentially could bring a big payoff.

Two labs — at Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — created the new viruses while studying how bird flu might mutate to become a bigger threat to people.

The U.S. government funded the work but last month urged the teams not to publicly reveal the exact formula so that would-be bioterrorists couldn’t copy it. Critics also worried a lab accident might allow the strains to escape.

The researchers reluctantly agreed not to publish all the details as long as the government set up a system to provide them to legitimate scientists who really need to know.

The National Institutes of Health is creating such a system.

“We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks,” lead researchers Ron Fouchier of Erasmus and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of Wisconsin wrote Friday in the letter.

They were joined by nearly three dozen other flu researchers.

They called for a public international meeting to debate how to learn from the work, safely. And they agreed to hold off on additional research with the existing lab-bred strains or that leads to any new ones for 60 days.

A U.S. official praised the development.

The moratorium “is a really good idea, because a lot of very important issues are at hand,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who expects most flu researchers doing such work to sign on. “There aren’t a lot of people who are doing that, I can assure you.”

The U.S. also wants international input; researchers are talking with the World Health Organization.

Today, the so-called H5N1 bird flu only occasionally infects people, mostly those who have close contact with sick poultry.

But when it does, it is highly lethal. The lab-bred H5N1 strains were a surprise because they showed it was easier than previously thought for the virus to mutate in a way that lets it spread easily between at least some mammals — in this case, ferrets.

Just Posted

Central Alberta firefighters wildfire expertise recognized

Clearwater County Regional Fire Services chosen to create crack firefighting unit

Safety a priority at Westerner Days in Red Deer

2019 Red Deer Motors North American Pony Chuckwagon Championship

Amazon Prime Day kind of ho hum for local retailers

E-commerce giant Prime Day sale runs Monday and Tuesday

Innisfail woman facing fraud charges

RCMP allege woman stole more than $54,000

Visitors flock to Bluebird Festival

Annual festival takes place east of Blackfalds

Cannabis producer Organigram Holdings Inc. reports $10.2M third-quarter loss

Organigram Holdings Inc. reported a third-quarter loss as revenue slipped amid lower… Continue reading

Churches jump into action with threat of immigration sweeps

CHICAGO — As a nationwide immigration crackdown loomed, religious leaders across the… Continue reading

Some in GOP rebuke Trump, but party leaders still silent

WASHINGTON — Top Republicans remained largely silent after President Donald Trump said… Continue reading

Final blast of torrential rains unleashed by weakened Barry

NEW ORLEANS — Tropical Depression Barry spared New Orleans from catastrophic flooding,… Continue reading

Evidence erased by police would have freed wrongfully convicted man: defence lawyer

HALIFAX — A defence lawyer who fought to free Glen Assoun from… Continue reading

You don’t feel alientated, Trudeau tells western Canadians

National unity is not being threatened by the federal government’s attack on… Continue reading

Global concern grows over Canada’s funding of fight against AIDS, TB, malaria

OTTAWA — International concern is growing in medical and development circles that… Continue reading

Your Ward News editor hate trial could be re-opened; judge delays sentencing

TORONTO — A convicted hatemonger who maintains his defence lawyer deliberately threw… Continue reading

Most Read