FLU NEWS SCAN: H5N1 dual-use workshop, H5N1 strains in Egypt

Nov 19, 2012

HHS to host international workshop on H5N1 research issues
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today that the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will host a 2-day workshop Dec 17 and 18 to discuss issues related to dual-use H5N1 avian influenza research. The event will take place on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., and is open to the public but will not be webcast, according to the meeting announcement. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the NIH, hinted about the upcoming meeting in an editorial on H5N1 research moratorium published last month in mBio, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology. In a flyer about the meeting the HHS said the goal of the meeting is to provide a forum for multidisciplinary and multinational perspectives on experiments that explore how H5N1 might evolve to become a greater threat to humans. As part of developing its own funding policies, the HHS said it is interested in hearing from various stakeholders and how other governments and funders approach similar H5N1 research issues. Speakers will include experts from around the globe who have expertise in influenza, other infectious diseases, dual-use research (which could be used for both good and bad ends), bioethics, public health, biosecurity, epidemiology, national security, public health surveillance, agricultural and the World Health Organization, law, and medical countermeasure development.
Nov 19 NIH meeting notice
Oct 9 CIDRAP News story "Experts ponder H5N1 research moratorium issues"

Researchers say H5N1 viruses in Egypt may pose special pandemic risk
Most H5N1 avian influenza viruses in Egypt have two mutations that may make them more transmissible in mammals, thus posing a greater threat of sparking a human pandemic than H5N1 viruses elsewhere, according to experts whose research on H5N1 transmissibility sparked a major controversy in the past year. The finding was reported by Ron Fouchier, PhD, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, PhD, and three other authors in an opinion article published last week in PLoS Pathogens. Their conclusion was based on an inspection of publicly available hemagglutinin (HA) sequences from H5N1 viruses. Fouchier led a team that showed that as few as five mutations could give H5N1 viruses airborne transmissibility in ferrets, and Kawaoka's team showed that a hybrid virus containing H5 HA, with certain mutations, also could be an airborne spreader in ferrets. The studies were published in May and June after a long debate in science and government circles about whether the details should be released. The studies revealed, among other things, that a mutation involving loss of a glycosylation site at HA positions 154-156 appears to be critical for H5 virus transmission in mammals, according to the PLoS Pathogens article. When the team examined available HA sequences from avian H5N1 viruses, they found that more than 70% of Egyptian isolates lacked the HA 154-156 glycosylation site, versus about 25% of isolates from Vietnam and none from Indonesia. An analysis of human isolates from the three countries revealed a similar pattern. In addition, the researchers say the mutation PB2-627K, which is known to be involved in mammalian adaptation of avian flu viruses, is found in most H5N1 isolates from Egypt.
Nov 15 PLoS Pathogens article
Related Jun 21 CIDRAP News story

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