H5N1 influenza has been at the center of heated discussions in science and policy circles since the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) asked the authors of two recent H5N1 investigations and the scientific journals that planned to publish the studies to withhold crucial details of the research in the interest of biosecurity.
In the mBio® commentary, Michael Osterholm* and Nicholas Kelley, of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, present their case that H5N1 is a very dangerous virus, based on their analysis of published studies of the seroepidemiology of H5N1 in humans. H5N1 flu infections have exceedingly high mortality, they say, and current vaccines and antiviral drugs will not pull us out of a global H5N1 pandemic. "We believe that the assertion that the case-fatality rate of H5N1 influenza in humans may be overestimated is based on a flawed data analysis,”Osterholm said.
Analysis of reports of H5N1 seroprevalence that include data from the 1997 Hong Kong outbreak as well as data from 2004 to date will give a misleading impression because the 1997 outbreak was a very different “biologic event” that is recognized as such by the WHO, because the 1997 H5N1 virus has a significantly different genotype from that of later H5N1 viruses. This is why the WHO does not include the Hong Kong H5N1 virus data in any analysis of H5N1 transmission, and the 1997 Hong Kong virus is not recommended for inclusion in H5N1 vaccines, Osterholm explained.
Seroepidemiologic studies that have examined the exposure of various groups of people to H5N1 viruses only from 2004 onward indicate that only a small segment of the population has ever been exposed to H5N1, and that among those that have been exposed, many become seriously ill or die.
"The available seroepidemiologic data for human H5N1 infection support the current WHO reported case-fatality rates of 30% to 80%," Osterholm says. In the event of an H5N1 pandemic, they point out, if the virus is even one tenth or one twentieth as virulent as has been documented in these smaller outbreaks, the resulting fatality rate would be worse than in the 1918 pandemic, in which 2% of infected individuals died.
Vaccines will not head off an H5N1 pandemic either, the authors say, since the time required to develop and manufacture an influenza vaccine specific to new outbreak strain has resulted in “too little, too late” vaccine responses for the 1957, 1968, and 2009 influenza pandemics, and not much in the process has changed since 2009.
"The technology behind our current influenza vaccines is simply not sufficient to address the complex challenges associated with an influenza pandemic in the 21st century," Osterholm and Kelley say.
This is the heart of the matter, they say: there has been enough discussion about how severe an H5N1 pandemic might be. Moving forward, the current controversy has provided a valuable opportunity for scientists and public policy experts to discuss influenza research and preparedness and create "a roadmap for the future." The discussion among scientists and policy makers needs to move on from whether H5N1 poses a serious international threat - as it clearly does - and begin discussing how we can prevent these viruses from escaping labs and how scientists can share their flu-related results with those who have a need to know.
There are critical questions that need to be answered, the authors say. For instance, how can scientists conduct virus-transmission studies in mammals safely and how can scientists share research methods and results with those who have a need to know? We also need to come to agreement on how to ensure that strains of H5N1 viruses created in the lab don't escape those controlled environments, the authors say. And new, more effective vaccine technologies are needed that can enable substantially faster production. Resolving these issues could allow H5N1 research and preparedness to serve as a springboard for solving similar problems with existing or emerging pathogens.
*Michael Osterholm is a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.
mBio® is an open access online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology to make microbiology research broadly accessible. The focus of the journal is on rapid publication of cutting-edge research spanning the entire spectrum of microbiology and related fields. It can be found online at http://mbio.asm.org.
The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of over 39,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to advance the microbiological sciences as a vehicle for understanding life processes and to apply and communicate this knowledge for the improvement of health and environmental and economic well-being worldwide.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 February 2012 13:45
Link Discovered between Immune System, Brain Structure and Memory
26.04.2017 | Universität Basel
Researchers develop eco-friendly, 4-in-1 catalyst
25.04.2017 | Brown University
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy