Canada to restrict H5N1 transmissibility studies

Research on H5N1 avian flu viruses that have been modified to enhance their transmissibility in humans must be conducted with the highest degree of biosecurity, the Public Health Agency of Canada recently announced.

The Canadian national health agency now requires all research on the viruses in Canada to be conducted in laboratories designated as Containment Level 4, known as Biosafety Level 4 in many other countries. The only Containment Level 4 labs in Canada are located in Winnipeg at the National Microbiology Laboratory, according to

Canadian scientists will still be able to conduct research on regular H5N1 viruses in Containment Level 3 laboratories, which are more common.

The regulation is active, but currently the only known samples of the viruses in question are being held in laboratories located in the United States and the Netherlands, where they were originally developed. As long as controversy still simmers over whether the teams that created the strains should be able to publish their work in full, it is doubtful that the labs will be sharing samples.

The Canadian decision may not have immediate ramifications but has inaugurated a call to restrict work on the transmissible H5N1 strains to a substantially smaller number of laboratories. There are far fewer Level 4 labs in the world and neither the Dutch or American teams that created the viruses have them at their institutions, reports.

A spokesman for the National Microbiology Laboratory said that the new biosafety guidance was created as the result of a risk assessment conducted by the Public Health Agency on the altered H5N1 strains.