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Research on avian influenza finally published

Researchers from Erasmus MC have just published their research on the transmissibility of H5N1 avian influenza virus in the leading scientific journal Science.

The publication was delayed by several months due to the fact that various organizations first wanted to investigate whether the details could be misused by malicious individuals. In the study the researchers show that only a small number of mutations were necessary to change the H5N1 virus so that it can spread through the respiratory system between mammals.  This implies that the risk of a H5N1 pandemic cannot be ruled out.

"We show that only 5 to 10 mutations are necessary before H5N1 becomes transmissible by air”,  says research leader and virologist  Ron Fouchier of Erasmus MC. The researchers found changes in the virus that were as yet unknown, giving them a better understanding of how viruses become transmissible by air. The knowledge gained on these changes can be used by researchers to determine worldwide whether the virus does actually undergo these changes and becomes a threat to humans and/or animals. A second publication in the same edition of Science discusses this in further detail. Furthermore, timely testing of drugs and vaccines can take place.

The publication in Science has been a long time in coming. Various organizations were concerned that in addition to the benefits the research could also be misused, for example, by bioterrorists. The World Health Organization (WHO), the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) and the Dutch government first wanted to obtain clarity on these risks. The researchers have proven that it is safe to publish the study and that the research was conducted under safe conditions. They showed that the virus is not deadly when transmitted by air.

For further information read the full press release.

Also read the most popular Q&A's on this publication.


Date published: 21 June 2012.

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