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Nature | Correspondence

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Pause on avian flu transmission studies
Published online 20 January 2012 The continuous threat of an influenza pandemic represents one of the bi est challen es in public health! "nfluenza pandemics are #no$n to be caused by viruses that evolve from animal reservoirs% such as birds and pi s% and can ac&uire enetic chan es that increase their ability to transmit in humans! Pandemic preparedness plans have been implemented $orld$ide to miti ate the impact of influenza pandemics! ' ma(or obstacle in preventin influenza pandemics is that little is #no$n re ardin $hat ma#es an influenza virus transmissible in humans! 's a conse&uence% the potential pandemic ris# associated $ith the many different influenza viruses of animals cannot be assessed $ith any certainty! )ecent research brea#throu hs identified specific determinants of transmission of *+N1 influenza viruses in ferrets! )esponsible research on influenza virus transmission usin different animal models is conducted by multiple laboratories in the $orld usin the hi hest international standards of biosafety and biosecurity practices that effectively prevent the release of transmissible viruses from the laboratory! These standards are re ulated and monitored closely by the relevant authorities! This statement is bein made by the principal investi ators of these laboratories! "n t$o independent studies conducted in t$o leadin influenza laboratories at the ,niversity of -isconsin./adison and 0rasmus /C in )otterdam% the Netherlands% investi ators have proved that viruses possessin a haema lutinin 1*'2 protein from hi hly patho enic avian *+N1 influenza viruses can become transmissible in ferrets! This is critical information that advances our understandin of influenza transmission! *o$ever% more research is needed to determine ho$ influenza viruses in nature become human pandemic threats% so that they can be contained before they ac&uire the ability to transmit from human to human% or so that appropriate countermeasures can be deployed if adaptation to humans occurs! 3espite the positive public4health benefits these studies sou ht to provide% a perceived fear that the ferret4transmissible *+ *' viruses may escape from the laboratories has enerated intense public debate in the media on the benefits and potential harm of this type of research! -e $ould li#e to assure the public that these experiments have been conducted $ith appropriate re ulatory oversi ht in secure containment facilities by hi hly trained and responsible personnel to minimize any ris# of accidental release! -hether the ferret4adapted influenza viruses have the ability to transmit from human to human cannot be tested!

-e reco nize that $e and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures ta#en to minimize its possible ris#s! -e propose to do so in an international forum in $hich the scientific community comes to ether to discuss and debate these issues! -e realize that or anizations and overnments around the $orld need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challen es that stem from the $or#! To provide time for these discussions% $e have a reed on a voluntary pause of 50 days on any research involvin hi hly patho enic avian influenza *+N1 viruses leadin to the eneration of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals! "n addition% no experiments $ith live *+N1 or *+ *' reassortant viruses already sho$n to be transmissible in ferrets $ill be conducted durin this time! -e $ill continue to assess the transmissibility of *+N1 influenza viruses that emer e in nature and pose a continuin threat to human health! .