Wednesday, March 04, 2009

engineered die-off?

Comes now Big Don with a particularly nasty data point unlikely to break the radar of mainstream media.

Canadian Press | Officials investigate how bird flu viruses were sent to unsuspecting labs

Officials are trying to get to the bottom of how vaccine manufacturer Baxter International Inc. made "experimental virus material" based on a human flu strain but contaminated with the H5N1 avian flu virus and then distributed it to an Austrian company.

That company, Avir Green Hills Biotechnology, then disseminated the supposed H3N2 virus product to subcontractors in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Germany. Authorities in the four European countries are looking into the incident, and their efforts are being closely watched by the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Control.

Though it appears none of the 36 or 37 people who were exposed to the contaminated product became infected, the incident is being described as "a serious error" on the part of Baxter, which is on the brink of securing a European licence for an H5N1 vaccine. That vaccine is made at a different facility, in the Czech Republic.

"For this particular incident ... the horse did not get out (of the barn)," Dr. Angus Nicoll of the ECDC said from Stockholm.

"But that doesn't mean that we and WHO and the European Commission and the others aren't taking it as seriously as you would any laboratory accident with dangerous pathogens - which you have here."

Accidental release of a mixture of live H5N1 and H3N2 viruses - if that indeed happened - could have resulted in dire consequences. Nicoll said officials still aren't 100 per cent sure the mixture contained live H5N1 viruses. But given that ferrets exposed to the mixture died, it likely did.

H5N1 doesn't easily infect people, but H3N2 viruses do. They are one of two types of influenza A viruses that infect people each flu season.

If someone exposed to the mixture had been co-infected with H5N1 and H3N2, the person could have served as an incubator for a hybrid virus able to transmit easily to and among people. That mixing process, called reassortment, is one of two ways pandemic viruses are created.

Research published last summer by scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that in the laboratory, H5N1 and H3N2 viruses mated readily. While less virulent than H5N1, a number of the offspring viruses appeared to retain at least a portion of the killing power of their dangerous parent.

Baxter International, which is based in Deerfield, Ill., said the contamination was the result of an error in its research facility in Orth-Donau, Austria.

The facility had been contracted by Avir Green Hills to make what Baxter refers to as "experimental virus material" based on human H3N2 viruses.