NEWS SCAN: Dual-use research, H1N1 burden, pathogens in imported wildlife, funds for Pandemrix narcolepsy patients, H5N1 in Pakistan

Jan 11, 2012

Federal official reports progress on dual-use research issues
A National Institutes of Health (NIH) official said the US government's goal is to have recommendations for restricting full access to two controversial studies on H5N1 avian flu transmissibility ready in the next couple of weeks, Nature News reported today. Amy Patterson, who directs the NIH office that oversees the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) told Nature that the Department of Health and Human Services is leading the effort, with help from many other agencies and departments. She said the groups working on the recommendations are receiving input from international partners and are aware of how important it is to share information with H5N1-endemic countries. Patterson also said issues raised by the H5N1 papers have spurred US government work on a draft policy on oversight of dual-use research, which would also suggest a system for local review at institutions where the research is conducted. She said scientists and members of the public would have a chance to weigh in on the framework, and she predicted that it would be released early in the spring. On Dec 20 the NSABB asked Science and Nature to redact key information from two studies on the transmissibility of mutant H5N1 strains in ferrets over concern that the information could be misused by bioterrorists. At that time, the NIH said the government was working on a mechanism to share the full study details with scientists who needed them.
Jan 11 Nature News story

Early H1N1 pandemic burden hit kids, poor hard in London
Transmission of the 2009 H1N1 virus was highest in children and economically disadvantaged people during the first 2 months of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in London, researchers reported today. They explored age and socioeconomic patterns during England's containment phase of pandemic flu response, and their findings appear in Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses. Their analysis of 3,487 cases reported to the London Flu Response Center from Apr 20 to Jun 28, 2009, found the highest rate was in primary school children, followed by those in secondary school. At first, cases clustered in affluent areas, but overall, cases were concentrated among poor populations across all age-groups, with a risk ratio between the most and least economically deprived of 2.32 (95% confidence interval, 1.94-2.78).
Jan 11 Influenza Other Respi Viruses abstract

Viruses found in wildlife parts illegally imported into US
A pilot project to test wildlife and wildlife products illegally imported into the United States led to the identification of retroviruses and herpesviruses in samples from nonhuman primates, according to a report published yesterday by PLoS One. Animal parts confiscated at airports in New York City, Atlanta, and Houston were analyzed by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University in New York, who identified parts from nonhuman primate and rodent species, including baboon, chimpanzee, mangabey, guenon, green monkey, cane rat, and rat, the report says. Pathogen screening at Columbia and at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed a retrovirus (simian foamy virus) and herpesviruses (cytomegalovirus and lymphocryptovirus) in the primate samples. The findings "are the first demonstration that illegal bushmeat importation into the United States could act as a conduit for pathogen spread, and suggest that implementation of disease surveillance of the wildlife trade will help facilitate prevention of disease emergence," the article says. "Our study underscores the importance of surveillance at ports, but we must also encourage efforts to reduce demand for products that drive the wildlife trade," said coauthor W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, in a press release from the EcoHealth Alliance, whose scientists were involved in the study.
Jan 10 PLoS One study
Jan 10 EcoHealth Alliance press release

Compensation starts for Pandemrix narcolepsy patients
Compensation to Finnish patients who suffered narcolepsy after receiving the pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine Pandemrix is now being paid, Finland-based YLE News said today. The article said that decisions on 80 patients have been rendered, though it didn't specify how many of them will be compensated. A 10-year-old boy will receive an initial payment of 11,700 Euros ($14,880), with additional funds available when he turns 18. An 18-year-old was awarded 22,000 Euros ($28,000). About 30 cases are still under review, the story said. An insurance pool will cover claims of up to 30 million Euros, with the government paying anything over that, according to the article. Pandemrix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, was used in Europe during the pandemic and contains an adjuvant. Last July the European Medicines Agency confirmed the link between narcolepsy and the vaccine in Finnish patients but cautioned against extrapolating those findings to other countries that used fewer doses of the vaccine.
Jan 11 YLE article
Jul 21, 2011, CIDRAP News story

Pakistan reports avian flu in zoo peacocks
Pakistani authorities reported that 15 peacocks at Lahore's Safari Park have died of H5N1 avian flu, according to the Pakistani newspaper The Nation today. The deaths occurred over the past 7 days, the story said. Chickens on nearby poultry farms had previously been found to have the disease.
Jan 11 Nation story

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