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News of the Day ... In Perspective

11/15/2005

American scientists resurrect 1918 pandemic influenza virus, plan to send it in the mail

In an “achievement of staggering proportions,” scientists have resurrected a deadly pathogen from an autopsy collection and the disinternment of an Alaskan Eskimo from the Permafrost. This is the agent that caused the “Spanish flu,” killing more human beings than any other disease of similar duration in the history of the world.

The re-created virus has killed mice in a heavily quarantined laboratory in Atlanta—faster than any flu virus ever tested (Charles Krauthammer, Seattle Times, 10/17/05).

The genome has been sequenced and published for all to see. One research group used the sequence to reconstruct the complete virus (Tumpey TM et al. Science 2005;310:77-80).

Scientists hope to spur research into defensive measures before avian flu jumps the species barrier and causes another pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in an interim rule published on Oct 20, has designated the virus as a “select agent.” Laboratories working under biosafety level-3 conditions will be able to obtain the virus. It can be sent by commercial carrier services (Nature 2005;438:130, 134-135).

Krauthammer calls the virus a “potential destroyer of civilizations,” and remarks that “we might have just given it to our enemies.”

Additional information:

Shipments of Tamiflu stopped to prevent “hoarding,” News of the Day 11/4/05.

Many drugs in short supply, News of the Day 10/31/04.

“The Really Really Big Threats,” by Lowell Wood, Doctors for Disaster Preparedness annual meeting 2002

Other information on Bioterrorism