Two teams of scientists announced recently that they had managed to change to an H5N1 virus that is transmitted easily from one ferret to another. Nothing too alarming until then, you say, unless you are a ferret and not wanting to have the flu … Except that the ferret animal model is the closest to man when he s ‘is to study the flu and that if this virus is highly contagious in ferrets, all indications are he would also in humans.
Seasonal flu infects only 20% of the world population, more than 1 billion people each year, but only a small fraction of them die, usually older, younger or sicker. Unfortunately, when flu is H5N1, mortality is much higher and can reach 60% of those infected. If the strain developed by the researchers came to escape secure laboratories where it is confined, several hundred million people could lose life.
A risk that is not tolerable compared to the benefits that the study of such a virus can bring, according to Thomas V. Inglesby , Center for Biosecurity in Baltimore, United States. This clinician is sounding the alarm, because even if he believes that everything must be done to improve the means of diagnosis and treatment of influenza, the primary responsibility of physicians is to do no harm ( primum non nocere ). Far from being opposed to the principle of free and open exchange of scientific information, Thomas V. Inglesby and colleagues believe it is nevertheless the scientific community to exercise restraint and caution in such cases. They prefer to see the results of such experiments benefit from a restricted and abandoned such research. A view that does not really share the World Health Organization (WHO), although it shares the idea that the pursuit of such work must be framed and be of greater attention.
That the French have shunned the vaccination against seasonal influenza in 2012 which finally ends up making its appearance is not surprising. The disaster of the campaign against the H1N1 virus, germ falsely presented as dangerous as it was nothing to justify the purchase of vaccine doses, has left its mark. This mistrust is not legitimate to forget that all viruses are not identical and that vaccination is a particularly effective way to guard a number of bacterial and viral diseases. Discuss the merits of the research in this area is not the purpose of this paper, only raises the question of how far and under what conditions.
For some, allow more researchers access to data on these modified H5N1 virus is essential for a better scientific understanding of this organism. For others, these data widely available is to take the risk that a malicious individual, a terrorist group or state to use bellicose and threatening the serenity of mankind.
If viruses mutate without the need for a human intervention, this requires that they are regularly studied in the wild, there is no evidence that a strain similar to that developed was not born in the wild. Under these conditions, why develop a vaccine against this virus changed, especially since it is also likely to mutate? Modify a deadly virus to become more contagious and therefore more dangerous and then justify this work on the pretext that we must create a vaccine against it does not make sense for teams concerned about public health and not working not for military purposes …
Now that the new H5N1 strains exist, remains to know what to publish or not about them and the debate rages. The U.S. Department of Health, upon recommendation of the Advisory Board of American science of biosecurity, asked the authors of articles to present the results of journals and publishers who intend to publish them to make changes to manuscripts so that ‘they do not mention methodological details and other data that might help reproduce the experiments. Journals Science and Nature study these recommendations and it involves putting in place a mechanism to secure access to details of the experiments for researchers who have a legitimate need for the data to carry out major projects in public health.
This solution however, is problematic: who decides to accredit a particular scientific details that accesses experiences? If it works as a team, how to ensure that the secret will be safe? What guarantees that it will not release this data?
There is a precedent for particularly dangerous pathogen: smallpox. Following discussions and agreements, studies of the smallpox virus can be carried out today by two laboratories and all protocols proposed experiments must be approved by an independent international committee. This arrangement, which has been established for over a decade, is an example of what the international scientific community and governments can do to limit the risks posed to humanity and a highly contagious agent fatal. For Thomas V. Inglesby, this solution should be considered for these modified viruses of the H5N1 flu.
“Science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul. “This problem of modified H5N1 virus was not displeasing to Rabelais …