Thursday, February 23, 2012

Canada confines mutant flu to maximum-security facilities

Canada this month announced that any research on mammalian-transmissible strains of the H5N1 avian flu virus in the country’s labs would need to be done at the strictest level of biocontainment, Biological Safety Level 4 (BSL-4). It’s the first country to issue a biosafety rating following the creation of such H5N1 strains in two recent controversial studies (see “Nature News Special: “Mutant Flu”).

The question of which biosafety rating is appropriate for research on the new strains was highlighted as critical by an expert meeting convened in Geneva last week by the World Health Organization (WHO). The new, modified H5N1 strains are held at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in two BSL3-enhanced facilities (the second highest biocontainment level), and the WHO described these as “well-established research facilities with high security and high safety“. But it also recommended that regulators should “urgently” review the biosafety and biosecurity conditions under which further research on such strains is conducted, and that until that’s done, the strains should stay where they are, and not be shared with other labs. Read More