H5N1 virus deadlier than wild H5N1, expert warns

According to Debora MacKenzie, a consultant with New Scientist, despite new information by scientist Ron Fouchier about an experiment involving H5N1 bird flu, the virus is still deadlier than wild H5N1.

After a National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity advised against publishing details of Fouchier's research and the research of a similar experiment at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Fouchier presented new information at a meeting in Washington. He said that the new data shows that the H5N1 bird flu virus his team created was not actually as deadly as previously thought, New Scientist reports.

"Fouchier says the seven ferrets that caught the mutant H5N1 via aerosol transmission from other ferrets got sick, but didn't die," MacKenzie said, according to New Scientist. "Moreover, only one of eight ferrets that had a large dose of the mutant actually put up their noses died. In contrast, ferrets which got the ordinary, wild-type, pre-mutation H5N1 in their noses all died. This certainly makes the mutant seem a wimp."

When Fouchier's team put the virus strain directly into the ferret's tracheas, this is what caused the ferrets with the mutant strain to die. Fouchier said at the meeting that his mutant virus wouldn't spread across the world if it escaped. MacKenzie argues that such a virus could spread and adapt if given the opportunity.

"So are we safe from this thing after all?" MacKenzie said, according to New Scientist. "Hardly...If transmissible H5N1 wasn't worrying, we wouldn't be continuing the moratorium on research until, as (Anthony) Fauci (the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) also said in Washington, we've seen to the 'fortification' of lab safety. That's welcome news - as long as the research resumes, safely, soon."