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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

If you like, you can send Magpie an email!



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Thursday, October 21, 2004

The real threat from the flu.

It's not the vaccine shortage in the US, and it may not be the possibility of avian flu strains crossing over to humans. Instead, the biggest threat to world health could be inadequate safety procedure at laboratories that are conducting studies of especially virulent flu strains.

According to a report in New Scientist, biosecurity experts are worried that the scientists studying the flu virus are risking the escape of deadly flu strains into the general population. These include the 1918 flu virus that killed 40 million people, and which spread around the world in three months — during a time of far slower transportation and less international travel than at present.

Research on the 1918 virus apparently includes dropping 1918 flu genes into contemporary flu viruses, which effectively recreates the deadly 1918 strain. Given this, the possibility that the safety precautions used in the labs studying flu viruses are insufficient to prevent accidental infection of lab workers are even more worrying.

[Despite] the danger, researchers in the US are working with reconstructed versions of the virus at less than the maximum level of containment. Many other experts are worried about the risks. ?All the virologists I have spoken to have concerns,? says Ingegerd Kallings of the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control in Stockholm, who helped set laboratory safety standards for the World Health Organization.

Work on the 1918 flu virus is not the only worry. Some experiments with bird flu have also been criticised as dangerous (New Scientist print edition, 28 February 2004)...

In the US, the differing standards applied by different groups are due to the fact that experiments on engineered viruses such as the 1918 flu are approved on a case-by-case basis by Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs), composed of local scientists and officials. Critics say these are free to interpret the official guidelines in a way that suits them.

?There is no effective national system to ensure consistency, responsibility and good judgement in such research,? says Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project, a biosecurity pressure group in Austin, Texas. In a review of IBCs published this month, he found that many would not provide minutes of recent meetings as required by law.

He says the IBC that approved the planned 1918 flu study at the University of Washington considered only one scenario that could result in workers being exposed to airborne virus ? the dropping of samples. Its solution: lab workers ?will be trained to stop breathing?.


For more details about the 1918 virus and avian virus research currently being done, and the problems with keeping those viruses inside labs, make sure to read the whole New Scientist article.

| | Posted by Magpie at 11:19 AM | Get permalink




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