Avian influenza veterinary researchers agree to stop studies for 60 days
Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a veterinarian and virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, is leading one of several ongoing studies on H5N1 transmission and was one of 39 authors of an letter published Jan. 20 on the website for the scientific journals Science and Nature.
The letter states that recent research breakthroughs have identified specific determinants of the transmission of H5N1 influenza viruses in ferrets. Multiple laboratories have been working on these studies using the highest international standards of biosecurity, the letter notes.
Two independent studies—specifically Kawaoka’s and one conducted by Dr. Ron A.M. Fouchier in the Netherlands—have proven that viruses possessing a haemagglutinin (HA) protein from highly pathogenic avian H5N1 influenza viruses can become transmissible in ferrets.
More research is needed to understand how influenza viruses in nature can become human pandemic threats, the letter notes.
But a "perceived fear" that information about the ferret-transmissible H5 HA viruses may escape the laboratories has generated a lot of media interest and public debate, as well as concern from international leaders and government agencies.
In the United States, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) — an independent expert committee that advised the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies — has recommended that portions of Kawaoka's study be kept under wraps for biosecurity reasons.
While the advisory board said that the study's conclusions should be published, they have requested the scientific journal to stop short of publishing details of how these experiments were conducted so they cannot be replicated.