The same people in charge of weaponizing the H5N1 flu virus now want to modify another pathogen that has the capacity to spread among humans.
It seems that for some scientists the world does not have enough threats to the lives of billions of people, so they actually promote the creation of even more threats. This is the case of a group of insane scientists who believe that it is a good idea to modify a lethal virus in a lab, even though that could cause a worldwide pandemic. These mad scientists are of the type of Ron Fouchier, from the Erasmus Center in Rotterdam, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka, from Wisconsin University. These guys are the ones who last year manipulated the H5N1 flu virus to enable its contagion among mammals. They did so for the sake of science, they said. Now this year, scientists like Fouchier and Kawaoka want to do something similar with the H7N9 flu virus.
The so-called scientists, want to generate mutations on the H7N9 virus to turn it into a lethal agent that could cause a pandemic, instead of waiting for nature to take care of the virus. The U.S. health authorities supposedly imposed strict security conditions of these experiments. Why? Because they Americans directly finance experiments such as the one attempted by Kawaoka and Fouchier last year and the new one that scientist will perform on the H7N9 virus.
Since late March, when the first outbreak appeared in Shanghai, the H7N9 avian flu virus has only caused 130 cases of human infection in China, with 43 deaths in total. Those infected were allegedly victims of the virus “jumping” from birds to humans, still with no ability to spread between people. But the virus is changing and the insane scientists are concerned with the potential ability that the virus may acquire to “jump” from person to person. In this case, the potential for something to happen is prompting well-funded, out of control scientists to cause mutations in the virus so that it acquires the ability to, not potentially, but actually “jump” from person to person and in doing so, threaten to cause a worldwide pandemic. Scientists say, though, that they want to carry out the experiments so that they can better determine how to deal with the virus and to produce a “life-saving” vaccine.
Setting up a precendent
Fouchier and Kawaoka were the biologists that triggered a crisis last year by introducing five mutations in another influenza virus, the H5N1, to give it a high capacity of transmission between mammals, (that includes humans). They are now leading an initiative to repeat those experiments with the new influenza virus ( H7N9).
The proposal has led to a joint publication of Nature and Science Magazines, a coalition between competitors that is reserved for ‘special’ occasions. These two journals were also central to the H5N1 crisis, during the first months of 2012, it was to them to which Fouchier and Kawaoka sent information about their work. The scientific panel that advises the U.S. government on biosecurity, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity or NSABB, recommended its censorship for fear of bioterrorism, and it was only after mediation by the WHO (World Health Organization) that some of the experiments were published.
“Although the first outbreak of H7N9 is now controlled, the virus, or other similar properties, can reemerge when winter approaches,” say Fouchier and Kawaoka. The main measure that has helped control the outbreak has been the closure of poultry markets and other live birds, which are one of the great centers of emerging viruses. No one can forget of course that while bird farms are potential focal points for the emergence of viruses, some of the most lethal strains of viruses and other pathogens have come from high tech labs in developed countries which are heavily financed by big pharmaceutical conglomerates or powerful governments.
Chinese scientists have just published in the British Medical Journal what they estimate is the first human transmission of the H7N9 virus, from a father to his daughter. The case apparently occurred in April, before the outbreak was controlled. Also studies with ferrets, the usual pattern of human influenza by the great similarity of their response to these agents, have recently indicated, scientists say, that some strains of H7N9 are halfway to their adaptation to the airways of mammals.
“To thoroughly evaluate the potential risk associated with this new virus,” Fouchier and Kawaoka say, “we need new experiments that could be defined as’ gain of function”. It is a genetic technicality, which in this case acts as a strategic understatement. It means manipulating the virus to make it highly transmissible among mammals, or highly lethal, or both at once. “It’s how you find out what exact mutations cause these calamities,” say the scientists. Scientists believe that they have the power to emulate nature, even though, nature itself can through many more strikes at them with one virus than what they could handle in their lifetime.
The virologists are concerned about several very specific facts. The major coat protein of the new virus, hemagglutinin, the ‘H’ in H7N9, contains several sections on what is known as adaptations that probably will help it work its way towards the airways of mammals. Emphasis added on the word PROBABLY. This includes certain mutations that allow the virus to bind to human receptors. Many of these crucial data were obtained from the reconstruction of the Spanish flu virus that killed 40 million people in 1918. That’s right, that virus has also been manipulated and is now very much alive in several labs around the world.
As it is expected several H7N9 isolates from patients receiving antiviral treatments acquired drug resistance to oseltamivir, peramivir and zanamivir. These resistors complicate things much in case of a pandemic. Scientists and pharmaceutical companies limit their response to infection to antiviral drugs, which they say are the first line of defense while they develop an ‘all mighty’ vaccine. “To obtain information that enable us to initiate public health actions before a pandemic,” Fouchier and Kawaoka say, “there are fundamental experiments that need to be carried out regarding so-called ‘gain of function”. Remember the significance of that euphemism: create a pandemic agent in the laboratory to study it to prevent the pandemic.
Scientists, the military and the bureaucrats that enable these dangerous experiments say the security will be among the strictest in the history of biology. The research will be subject to the supervision of safety committees with world experts in infectious diseases, immunology, bio-terrorism, molecular biology and public health. Most of these measures are already used to work with the Spanish flu virus of 1918.
The question is, can we trust the same organizations, perhaps with new players, who have created deadly weapons and pathogens, to handle risky experiments that attempt to create controlled pandemics?
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute. Read more about Luis.