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Published H5N1 One Change From Efficient Transmission
Recombinomics Commentary 23:30
January 19, 2012

Finally, research laboratories that study H5N1 virus host adaptation, H5N1 virus in mammalian model systems, or use the same virus lineage that was the subject of our studies have a need to know because they may unknowingly develop high-risk variants. The latter group is not hypothetical, as we have identified, from the published literature, laboratories working with H5N1 viruses that may only require –one to three mutations before the viruses used may become transmissible via aerosols.
The above comments from today’s Sciencexpress on “Restricted Data on H5N1 Influenza Transmission", highlights the folly of the attempts to censor the Science and Nature papers on the changes required for efficient transmission of H5N1 in a ferret model.  The main points of the paper have been widely discussed.  Only five changes in two genes produce efficient transmission without the loss of virulence after 10 passages in ferrets.  Since the five changes were of known polymorphisms, and two labs had generated similar results, it was clear that the efficient transmission was straightforward and the current H5N1 in circulation posed a much greater risk than was widely appreciated.

Recent cases in Shenzhen China or Bali Indonesia had a number of receptor binding domain changes, and earlies cases in Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Egypt had PB2 E627K. 

The natural isolates used recombination to mix various receptor binding domain changes that had been published by the same labs in the Netherlands and United States that had achieved efficient transmission.

Thus, the censoring of this data by Science and Nature is hazardous to the world’s health.  Many lab isolates have not been published, and isolates may contain mixtures, so the “need to know” group extends well beyond those hwo have published sequences that are 1-3 changes from aerosloization.

In addition to lab isolates, there is considerable diversity in H5N1 in poultry and human cases, and in some instances, such as Egypt, sequence data has been withheld for human cases identified after March, 2010.

The limited number of additional changes required for transmission is minimal, and the required changes should be published immediately.

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