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Three Mutations Away from a Flu Pandemic 

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | MAY 9, 2012

The way to hell is paved with good intentions. This is the least that can be said about the creation of the most virulent form of H5N1 flu virus in two labs in the US and Holland. It is one of those cases where the medicine is worse than the disease. After lots of celebrations and pats on the backs, scientists revealed that their experiments to mutate the H5N1 flu virus had been successful, and the results had been replicated by different groups in Europe and the United States. What they didn’t seem to realize was that the results of those experiments, just as it happens with any other relevant scientific research, would have to be published to the medical community and then the public. Their satisfaction with the results of the experiments, or perhaps their incompetence, blinded them until some sense came back to them. Then came the censorship.

Initially, the procedures used to produce the mutated bird flu virus were blocked from the public as warnings were issued about the potential that so-called terrorists got a hold of the experiments and produced weaponized flu to spread it around cities with dense populations. Amazingly, that is exactly what the scientists did. They created a bioweapon in a lab, confirmed the results by replicating them in different labs, provided the findings to insiders in the scientific community and government officials, and now, they published the results out so anyone can take them, replicate them and create a pandemic.

The head scientist and virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who works at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Tokyo, confirmed that it only took three changes made to the main gene of the virus to enhance it with the capacity to ‘jump’ from animal mammals to humans. Kawaoka and his team confirmed that after implementing the changes on the gene, the virus was easily and effectively transmissible among mammals. The final result of the research was a hybrid virus that would contaminate populations as fast as the air can carry it all over the planet. It doesn’t get anything easier than that, does it? After obtaining the new virus, the researchers injected it in ferrets where mutations in the gene called hemagglutinin — the H part of the H5N1 name — did the rest.

According to research, one of the mutations observed in the hybrid virus is similar to another found in the virus that affects areas of the world such as the Middle East, Asia, Europe and Africa, where it has killed at least 345 patients without even being weaponized. The 345 number accounts for cases reported as deaths caused by the virus or complications, although many other cases have been left out or simply not reported. Scientist allege that the work performed on the H5N1 virus was necessary in order to learn about it and how it could potentially evolve during a pandemic. They believe that after the first mutation seen in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the virus will continue to change and that their experiments and results may help save many lives because there will be time to produce a vaccine to fight it. Does anyone see economic intere$t written all over it? This is the big $; I mean S in Health that few people realize the experiment is all about. As if the danger of a weaponized virus transmissible from other mammals to humans wasn’t dangerous enough, the pathogen also has the capacity to ‘jump’ from human to human, just as other flu strains.

The issue with human-made crisis such as the hybrid, lab-made H5N1 virus is that scientists have not figured out a cure to the infection it would cause, only a treatment for an ever changing organism, which only ensures that people will have to use vaccines and other medications for the rest of their lives and still be behind in the game. Not even the scientific inability to measure whether a virus like the H5N1 has the potential or not to become and out of control human transmissible virus was enough to stop well-financed scientists from creating quite a monstrosity. “Our study shows that relatively few amino acid mutations are sufficient for a virus with an avian H5 hemagglutinin to acquire the ability to transmit in mammals,” Kawaoka said.

Yushihiro Kawaoka’s paper, was published in the journal Nature. His is one of two papers around which scientists, government officials and biosecurity experts were debating about before the results were finally put out. Most of the opposition came from the  U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an organization that protested the publication on national security grounds. Those in favor of publishing the results contrasted the public health concerns with a statement that said it was critical to share information in order to harmonize the analysis and response to flu epidemics or pandemics. Everyone else’s hunch is that the people concerned with sharing information are more interested in keeping the money flow going that allows them to finance their research. But scientists said that it was necessary to keep an eye on H5N1 natural changes and what they meant to the scientific community and the public.

Kawaoka’s research has earned him the rock star treatment from colleagues, a dangerous state of affairs if one thinks what can unlimited financing and genius do when they are off the leash. Back in 2003, China directly blamed the U.S. for the death of Chinese people who died after being infected with a violent strain of SARS. Back then, China floated the idea that the SARS virus was the product of a lab experiment that resulted in a bioweapon, a virus that was race specific. Other reports from main stream media even adventured expectations about the H5N1 airborne virus that Kawaoka and his colleagues produced in their labs. Another scientist, Ron Fouchier, who will also published the results of his experiments after the Dutch government allowed him to do so, announced his achievement just last week. His experiment will be published on the scientific magazine Science at a time that is still to be determined. As in many occasions, the US government was the top financier of the experiments conducted by Kawaoka.

The consequences of the artificial creation or mutation of viruses is well-known by the scientific community. The 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic was a result from the games played by scientists who created a hybrid virus with a mutated hemagglutinin gene from H5N1 that fused to the seven remaining genes from the H1N1 virus. Back then, scientists did not create a cure to the potential pandemic and the pharmaceutical industry heavily benefited by offering a useless and dangerous vaccine that hadn’t even been tested properly and which was linked to hundreds of side effects and allergic reactions not disclosed by the makers. Despite the unknowns, both government officials all over the world and pharmaceutical companies themselves guaranteed the safety of the vaccine and justified the absence of valid human trials on the unexpected appearance of the H1N1 virus. Vaccine makers multiplied their average earnings of $50 billion dollars a year as a direct result of the sale of the vaccines, which were purchased by governments with taxpayer money. In 2009, the people of the world were once again the subjects of a worldwide experiment performed under the pretense that it was necessary to learn how much would the correct dosage be for humans. It is important to remember that vaccine makers are immune against legal action should a person determined to have been damaged by a vaccine decide to sue for damages.

“It really is a wonderful study,” said Richard Webby, director of a World Health Organization collaborating center that focuses on studies of animal and bird influenza viruses at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The World Health Organization itself was one of many entities that paraded around the world pushing people to buy and inject themselves with the H1N1 vaccine to prevent the much feared pandemic. In mid 2009, the U.S. agreed to spend at least $1 billion in flu vaccine production, which makes one wonder how much of that money went to finance experiments such as the one conducted by Kawaoka and his team.

Although he did not show proof of it, Webby said that mutations like the ones that transformed the H5N1 virus into a biological weapon may not occur in the wild. Of course, no one is counting on the virus to reach the virulent pandemic level by itself, now that it has been aided by out of control scientists. He said that viruses such as the one produced in a lab by Kawaoka require changes in functions the field has known for some time are key for avian flu viruses to make the leap to be able to infect humans. “Those include changing the type of cell receptors the viruses bind to, from receptors that are typically found in people only deep in the lungs to ones found in the upper respiratory tract, where human flu viruses attach.”

Other scientists like Webby see the research as a valuable piece of work that will help experts study the mutation mechanism of the virus, which they say, turns it more efficient when spreading from mammal-to-mammal. One of those scientists is Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, a flu virologist who works at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Although a warning for the potential mass infection has been issued by the scientists themselves, Garcia-Sastre says that the virus may not transmit that easily among humans. He believes that Kawaoka’s work will help scientists pick out viruses that present mutations from those that do not have them in order to study them and come up with solutions to a pandemic threat. This is, though, if the scientists studying them intend to actually help humans avoid such pandemic. The problem with his premise is that the system in place utilized to monitor the behaviours of viruses and other pathogens is rather poor. This deficiency in the monitoring grows exponentially if one takes into account that changes made to viruses in labs can go undetected for a long time, perhaps up until the moment it is released into the air. In a lab environment, where money and time are unlimited, scientists can deal with unsolved problems, tie all the loose ends and achieve any desired result just as Kawaoka did. For example, missing genes can be added or taken out to affect the virulence and the type of living thing it would be most effective on.

If anything positive has come out of this scientific development is the fact that flu scientists and others who seek to play God with dangerous forms of life like viruses and bacteria will be directly under the microscope as they come up with new ways to teach themselves how to create bioweapons for research purposes and for biowarfare. Richard Webby, from the WHO believes that the outcome will end in more monitoring for the kind of research completed by scientists all over the world. “There’s certainly going to be more paperwork. But in the long run it’s surely going to be a whole lot easier than what we’ve just been through since December of last year.” Sure, but what stops a scientist, or for that matter any other professional, from lying about experimental results to carry out his or her dream to be recognized or to obtain more funding for their signature life project? One only needs to look at climate science (Climategate, hockey stick, rising sea level) in order to find an answer to this question. Or perhaps if you don’t want to go that far, what stops a pharmaceutical company or government controlled entity from carrying out experiments out in the open? Remember Tuskegee?

I guess it all comes down to trust. Do we trust our fame-thirsty scientists or the pharmaceutical companies that hire them or the governments that experimented on humans without their consent?… and continue to do it today?

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About the author:

Luis Miranda is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at The Real Agenda. His career spans over 17 years and almost every form of news media. He attended Montclair State University's School of Broadcasting and also obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. Luis speaks English, Spanish Portuguese and Italian.

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