May 16, 2009

H1N1 flu: WHO rubbishes lab test gone wrong theory

The World Health Organisation on Thursday debunked the theory that the deadly H1N1 swine flu virus was the result of a lab test gone awfully wrong.

The theory was recently floated by a renowned Australian virologist Adrian Gibbs who said that the new flu virus may have been created in a laboratory having accidentally evolved in eggs that scientists use to grow viruses in and drug makers use to make vaccines with.

WHO's assistant director-general Dr Keiji Fukuda said, "Based on our evaluation, the conclusion is that the hypothesis does not really stand up to scrutiny. The evidence actually suggests that this is a naturally occurring virus and not a laboratory derived virus."

Dr Fukuda said the WHO made the conclusion after a series of discussions with scientists in its five collaborating influenza centres, virologists across the world, experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

According to WHO, all the scientists were asked to look at the evidence and then provide their opinion on whether it was a credible hypothesis or not. "We took the hypothesis very seriously, because of the nature of the hypothesis and because of the credible nature of the scientist. Because we are dealing with an influenza virus that is new, which originates from swine, we contacted the FAO and OIE," Dr Fukuda said.

Gibbs had said that genetic markers suggested that the combination of genes in the virus was not a natural event.

Dr Gibbs, who had studied the gene sequences of the swine flu virus posted on public data banks, argued that it must have been grown in eggs, the medium used in vaccine laboratories.

He reached that conclusion, he said, because the new virus was not closely related to known ones and because it had more of the amino acid lysine and more mutations than typical strains of swine flu.

Scientists at Imperial College, London, recently found that the H1N1 flu virus presently causing havoc won't be as catastrophic as the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 that killed over 50 million people.

However, the virus does have a full fledged pandemic potential and appears to be as clinically severe as the H2N2 virus responsible for the 1957 Asian flu pandemic, in which four million people perished.

The 1957 pandemic started in China and came in two waves -- the first wave mostly hit children while the second mostly affected the elderly. In total, the pandemic caused about four million deaths globally.

Genetic analysis of the present virus has also revealed that the 2009 virus is more transmissible than seasonal flu.

The researchers estimate that the new strain is fatal in around four in every 1,000 cases.

Link: Original Article

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