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Scandalous Non-Investigation of Human WSN/33 in Swine

Recombinomics Commentary

May 7, 2005

The inability of the WHO to detect or monitor WSN/33 in Korea raises serious questions.  The sequences (A/swine/Korea/
S10/2004(H1N1),  A/swine/Korea/S175/2004(H1N1), A/swine/Korea/S109/2004(H9N2), A/swine/Korea/S190/2004(H9N2), A/swine/Korea/S81/2004(H9N2), A/swine/Korea/S83/2004(H9N2)) were publicly available at the end of November, 2004.  The WHO was warned of the danger, and six sequences of eight genes were publicly available at GenBank.  A cursory examination of the public data indicated that contamination was an unlikely explanation.  The WHO was given a detailed analysis of why contamination was unlikely.

It is unclear if WHO seriously looked at the public data.  Instead they relied on speculation by one of their consultants that the sequences were a contaminant.  Moreover, they spent the last five months trying to prove the speculation was correct.  The efforts were a dismal failure, because the evidence for the speculation was a disputed shipment of the WSN/33 virus to Korea.

The WHO did not offer any evidence to inquiring journalists.  They apparently floated nonsense about 30 sequences of eight genes from six isolates possibly  being an uploading error, even though the WHO was well aware of a manuscript detailing the fact that the isolates were reassortants between H9N2 avian genes and H1N1 WSN/33 genes.  The WHO stonewalling effectively closed out any public awareness of the public health problem.  WHO issued a few comments to Nature and Science.  They also prepared an announcement, but it remains unclear if that announcement was ever issued.  It clearly revealed the WHO failure to resolve the issue.  The WHO called the facts speculation and the speculation facts, and tried to close the book on the investigation.  The WHO indicated that they did not have time to investigate "Internet speculation", when the "speculation" merely stated the obvious from an analysis of the publicly available sequences.

It is now over six months since the sequences were deposited at GenBank on October 24, 2004, yet there is no information on the origin of the WSN/33 sequences in swine.  The 2005 sequences are clearly from the 2004 sequences, but the source of the 2004 sequences remains unknown.  They could have come from a civilian lab, a military lab, or a bioterrorist lab.  The infections could have been in South Korea or could have been imported via infected swine from the United States.

The list of serious questions is long and the investigation of the facts has just begun.  Five months were wasted ignoring or trying to disprove the true facts.  The WHO has yet to acknowledge that the WSN/33 sequences are real or what type of investigations are planned.

Monitoring of pandemic influenza has moved beyond scandalous.

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