Health experts say controversial bird flu research should be published | 

Flickr, 4BlueEyes

A blue-ribbon panel at the World Health Organization has decided that two controversial bird flu studies should go forward and be published in full.

Just not yet — not until the public has been inoculated against premature anxiety and hysteria. Here’s WHO’s press release on the meeting.

“The group felt that one of the things that would be important to do is to increase public awareness first,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO director general for health and environmental security.

“There are lots of concerns about whether this (research) has created a super virus, whether it might escape from laboratories,” Fukuda said.He said the panel recommended full publication and ongoing similar studies on the bird flu virus, H5N1, but not until the public is better educated about the true risks and benefits of the science.

“So that there isn’t a new wave of anxiety created by the manuscripts coming out,” Fukuda said.

Meanwhile, the editor of the journal Science, Bruce Alberts, said today he intends to publish the bird flu study they have in hand if the scientific community can’t agree on a workable alternative that adequately balances the need for free and open exchange of information against biosecurity concerns. Alberts told the BBC:

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver, he said: “Our position is that, in the absence of any mechanism to get the information to those scientists and health officials who need to know and need to protect their populations and to design new treatments and vaccines, our default position is that we have to publish in compete form.”


Latest Superbug Not a New Bug, Maybe Not Super. Just Evolution | 

E. coli


E. coli

Two story themes have come out recently that should remind us that bacteria rule this planet.

Bacteria were here first, they constitute most life on the planet, we wouldn’t survive without them and the best we can probably hope for is prudent accommodation.

A big story over the last few weeks was the warning of a new superbug, which wasn’t quite right.

It was actually a new gene mutation — dubbed New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase 1, or NDM-1 for short — that can transform a normally harmless bacterium like E. coli into a drug-resistant menace.The bugs involved here are not new and neither is the tendency for genetic change. It’s what they do.

The Indians were not too happy about the “New Delhi” part of the name given for this mutant gene because of the threat the news poses to their booming “medical tourism” industry. But that’s another story … The gene mutation was found in several dozen British patients who had traveled to India for health care, within two very common digestive system bacteria E. coli and K. pneumoniae.

Predictably, given the sometimes unholy alliance between the public health community (which on occasion needs to get your attention) and the media (which always needs your attention), the story was initially played as a huge new potential threat to humanity and then, a week or so later, as overblown. Continue reading