The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that untested drugs can be used to treat patients infected with the Ebola virus.
The WHO said it was ethical in light of the scale of the outbreak and high number of deaths – more than 1,000 people have died in West Africa.
The statement was made after its medical experts met in Switzerland on Monday to discuss the issue.
However, officials warned there were very limited supplies of potential treatments.
The WHO said where experimental treatments are used there must be informed consent and the results of the treatment collected and shared.
The WHO says it is ethical to use untested drugs to treat patients infected with the Ebola virus
In a statement, it said: “In the particular circumstances of this outbreak, and provided certain conditions are met, the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention.”
However, the organization conceded there were still many questions to be answered including how data could be gathered effectively while the focus remained on providing good medical care.
It was also unclear where the funding for the treatment would come from.
Last week the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak was a global health emergency.
The move came as Liberia said it was getting an experimental drug, ZMapp, after requests to the US government.
The WHO said there were only 12 doses.
ZMapp has been used on two US aid workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who have shown signs of improvement, although it is not certain what role the medication played in this.
A Roman Catholic priest, infected with Ebola in Liberia, who died after returning home to Spain is also thought to have been given the drug.
However, the drug has only been tested on monkeys and has not yet been evaluated for safety in humans.
There is no cure for Ebola, which has infected at least 1,779 people since the outbreak was first reported in Guinea in February.
The Liberian government said it was aware of the risks associated with ZMapp, but the alternative was to allow many more people to die.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned over the spread of polio as the disease becomes an international public health emergency.
Outbreaks in Asia, Africa and Middle East are an “extraordinary event” needing a coordinated “international response”, the WHO said.
The WHO said polio outbreaks in Asia, Africa and Middle East are an extraordinary event needing a coordinated international response
The agency recommends citizens of affected countries travelling abroad carry a vaccination certificate.
The conditions for a public health emergency of “international concern” were met, said the WHO’s Bruce Aylward.
Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director General, was speaking after an emergency meeting in Geneva on the spread of polio which included representatives of the affected countries.
“The international spread of polio to date in 2014 constitutes an <<extraordinary event>> and a public health risk to other states for which a co-ordinated international response is essential,” the WHO’s Emergency Committee said in statement.
“If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases.”
“Pakistan, Cameroon, and the Syrian Arab Republic pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014,” the WHO says.
The WHO lists Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria as “posing an ongoing risk for new wild poliovirus exportations in 2014”.
The new World Health Organization guidelines for HIV treatment could see millions more people in developing countries getting life-saving medicine.
The WHO is recommending that patients start taking medication at a much earlier stage of the disease.
The WHO says the guidelines, which are being launched at an international Aids conference in Kuala Lumpur, could help avert an extra 3 million AIDS deaths by 2025.
The charity MSF welcomed the move – but said extra investment would be needed.
A single pill combining three drugs will be given to people who are HIV positive much earlier, while their immune systems are still strong. Algeria, Argentina and Brazil are already doing this.
Not everybody who needs the medicine currently receives it, although big strides have been made in recent years in widening access to HIV treatment.
The WHO says these guidelines represent a “major shift” in policy, and will result in the number of people in developing countries who are eligible for drug treatment rising from 16 million to 26 million, or 80% of the total who are thought to have HIV.
It is thought the guidelines will add 10% to the $23 billion overall cost of treating HIV/AIDS in developing countries.
WHO recommends HIV/AIDS patients start taking medication at a much earlier stage of the disease
WHO believes global donors and the affected countries themselves will be convinced that the idea is cost-effective.
It agreed the policy after a year-long consultation, in which evidence about the role earlier treatment can play in reducing transmission of the virus was considered.
The WHO’s HIV/AIDS director, Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, said: “It will be very difficult to end AIDS without a vaccine – but these new guidelines will take us a long way in reducing deaths.
“We’re recommending earlier treatment – and also safer, simpler medicines that are already widely available.
“We also want to see better monitoring of patients, so they can see how well they’re doing on the treatment.
“This is not only about keeping people healthy and alive – the anti-retroviral drugs block transmission, so there is the potential for a major impact in preventing epidemics within different countries.”
Five companies make the daily combination pill, which can cost about $127 for a year’s individual treatment in countries where price reductions have been negotiated.
The WHO says there is an “encouraging trend” of countries using their own finances to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic such as Zimbabwe, which has successfully used a levy on mobile phones.
The new recommendations also include providing drugs to all children under five with the virus, all HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women and to people whose partner is uninfected.
In all of these cases, treatment would start regardless of how far the condition has damaged their immune system.
Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall added: “We are still seeing young children lagging behind in terms of access to treatment. Two-thirds of adults that need anti-retroviral drugs get them, but only a third of young children.”
The Global Fund – set up to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria – welcomed the guidelines as “very timely”.
Its executive director, Dr. Mark Dybul, said: “This is an example of how the Global Fund and the WHO work together to support countries as we move towards removing HIV as a threat to public health.”
MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders) warned extra political and financial support would be needed for implementing the recommendations, which it said were “ambitious but feasible”.
MSF medical co-ordinator in South Africa Dr. Gilles van Cutsem said: “With these new guidelines our collective goal should now be to scale up without messing up: to reach more people, retain them on treatment, and with an undetectable viral load.
“There’s no greater motivating factor for people to stick to their HIV treatment than knowing the virus is <<undetectable>> in their blood.”
Two leading doctors at an European meeting of anaesthetists urged for an international agreement on when and how death is diagnosed.
They said improvements in technology mean the line between life and death is less clear.
They also called for precise guidelines and more research to prevent the rare occasions when people are pronounced dead but are later found to be alive.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has begun work to develop a global consensus.
In the majority of cases in hospitals, people are pronounced dead only after doctors have examined their heart, lungs and responsiveness, determining there are no longer any heart and breath sounds and no obvious reaction to the outside world.
But Dr. Alex Manara, a consultant anaesthetist at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, said more than 30 reports in medical literature, describing people who had been determined dead but later found to be alive, had driven scientists to question whether the diagnosis of death can be improved.
At a meeting of the European Society for Anaesthesiology he said that on some occasions doctors do not observe the body for long enough before someone is declared dead.
Two leading doctors at an European meeting of anaesthetists urged for an international agreement on when and how death is diagnosed
Dr. Alex Manara called for internationally agreed guidelines to ensure doctors observe the body for five minutes, in order not to miss anyone whose heart and lungs spontaneously recover.
Many institutions in the US and Australia have adopted two minutes as the minimum observation period, while the UK and Canada recommend five minutes. Germany currently has no guidelines and Italy proposes that physicians wait 20 minutes before declaring death, particularly when organ donation is being considered.
At the conference, Ricard Valero, professor of anaesthesia at the University of Barcelona, considered the rarer scenario of patients in intensive care units whose hearts and lungs are kept functioning by machines.
In such scenarios, doctors use the concept of brain death – often conducting neurological tests to monitor any brain activity in the patient.
But the criteria used to establish brain death have slight variations across the globe.
In Canada, for example, one doctor is needed to diagnose brain death; in the UK, two doctors are recommended; and in Spain three doctors are required. The number of neurological tests that have to be performed vary too, as does the time the body is observed before death is declared.
“These variations in practice just do not seem logical,” Prof. Ricard Valero said.
He proposed further research to support a global consensus on the most appropriate criteria to diagnose brain death.
DSM-5, an update to one of the most important manuals in mental health – known as the bible of psychiatry – is to be published later.
Controversy and criticism has surrounded work on the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Some say the rulebook will turn normal behavior, like grief or childhood temper tantrums, into mental illness.
The manual is used mainly in the US, but is influential around the world.
This is the first update to the volume since 1994. Experts in mental health have been taking account of the latest scientific developments to update ways of diagnosing mental disorders.
The exact changes will be presented at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
There will be new categories including binge eating disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and hoarding disorder. Meanwhile Asperger’s syndrome will become part of autism spectrum disorders rather than having a section of its own.
The publication will have no effect on how people are diagnosed in countries which use guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Controversy and criticism has surrounded work on the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
Prof. Peter Kinderman, head of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Liverpool, said: “[DSM-5] will lower many diagnostic thresholds and increase the number of people in the general population seen as having a mental illness.”
He said “normal grief” would now be classed as a major depressive disorder and childhood temper tantrums would be a symptom of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.
Also: “A wide range of unfortunate human behaviors, the subject of many new year’s resolutions, will become mental illnesses – excessive eating will become <<binge eating disorder>>, and the category of <<behavioral addictions>> will widen significantly to include such <<disorders>> as <<internet addiction>> and <<s** addiction>>.”
There is also criticism of the way DSM classifies diseases based on symptoms. There are efforts to harness advances in genetics and neuroscience to diagnose people based on the cause rather than the symptoms of the illness.
The director of the US government’s National Institute of Mental Health said DSM had a “lack of validity”.
Dr. Thomas Insel posted a blog saying: “Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure.
“In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever.”
In some areas the distinction between disorders is narrowing. Autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia are all classed as separate disorders based on their symptoms.
However, research published in the Lancet medical journal in February showed all five disorders shared several genetic risk factors.
Dr. David Kupfer, the chair of the DSM-5 task force, said: “The changes to the manual will help clinicians more precisely identify mental disorders and improve diagnosis while maintaining the continuity of care.
“We expect these changes to help clinicians better serve patients and to deepen our understanding of these disorders based on new research.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it appears likely that the new coronavirus (NCoV) can be passed between people in close contact.
This comes after the French health ministry confirmed a second man had contracted the virus in a possible case of human-to-human transmission.
Two more people in Saudi Arabia are also reported to have died from the virus, according to health officials.
NCoV is known to cause pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.
WHO officials have expressed concern over the clusters of cases of the new coronavirus strain and the potential for it to spread.
Since 2012, there have been 33 confirmed cases across Europe and the Middle East, with 18 deaths, according to a recent WHO update.
Cases have been detected in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and have spread to Germany, the UK and France.
“Of most concern… is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person,” the WHO said on Sunday.
French health ministry confirmed a second man contracted the new coronavirus in a possible case of human-to-human transmission
“This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and so far, there is no evidence to suggest the virus has the capacity to sustain generalized transmission in communities,” the statement adds.
France’s second confirmed case was a 50-year-old man who had shared a hospital room in Valenciennes, northern France, with a 65-year-old who fell ill with the virus after returning from Dubai.
“Positive results [for the virus] have been confirmed for both patients,” the French health ministry said, adding that both men were being treated in isolation wards.
Meanwhile, the Saudi deputy minister of health said on Sunday that two more people had died from the coronavirus, bringing the number of fatalities to nine in the al-Ahsa governorate in the east of Saudi Arabia, Reuters news agency reports.
WHO officials have not yet confirmed the latest deaths.
In February, a patient died in a hospital in Birmingham, England, after three members of the same family became infected.
It is thought a family member had picked up the virus while travelling to the Middle East and Pakistan.
Novel coronavirus is from the same family of viruses as the one that caused an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that emerged in Asia in 2003.
However, NCoV and SARS are distinct from each other, the WHO said in its statement on Sunday.
Coronavirus is known to cause respiratory infections in both humans and animals.
But it is not yet clear whether it is a mutation of an existing virus or an infection in animals that has made the jump to humans.
Chinese authorities have reported the first case of H7N9 “bird flu” in Beijing after a 7-year-old girl has been hospitalized in the capital.
The girl, whose parents are poultry traders, developed a fever, sore throat and headache on Thursday. Her condition is said to be stable.
Two people in close contact with the child were quarantined for observation but have shown no symptoms so far.
The UN had recorded 28 cases and nine deaths in China as of Wednesday.
Chinese authorities have reported the first case of H7N9 bird flu in Beijing after a 7-year-old girl has been hospitalized in the capital
There are no reported cases outside the country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
China’s national disease control centre confirmed on Saturday that the girl take ill in Beijing had the H7N9 virus.
The first cases of the virus were reported in February, in eastern China.
According to the WHO, there is no evidence that the H7N9 virus is being transmitted between people, and most cases come from poultry.
International health experts have commended China on its transparency in reporting the spread of the virus, in sharp contrast to its handling of a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, when 8,096 people were infected worldwide and 744 died.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a tough new bill into law banning smoking in public.
Under the new legislation, smoking in restaurants, long-distance trains and housing block entrance halls will be illegal.
The government has made reducing smoking one of the cornerstones of its bid to improve public health.
Russia has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, with more than four in 10 Russians considered smokers.
Parliament passed the bill earlier in February, with only one deputy in the State Duma voting against the legislation.
The law “On protecting the health of citizens from the danger of passive smoking and the consequences of the use of tobacco” will come into force on June 1.
On that date, smoking will be banned within 15 m of entrances to stations, airports, metro stations and ports; in workplaces; in entrances to apartment blocks; and in children’s playgrounds and on beaches.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a tough new bill into law banning smoking in public
Exactly one year later, smoking will be banned on long-distance trains and ships; in hotels; in restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and markets; and on suburban railway platforms.
Under the bill, a minimum retail price will be set for tobacco and its sale and advertising will be restricted.
The legislation meets some of the recommendations outlined in a World Health Organization report on smoking in Russia published in 2011.
According to that report, the retail price of a pack of 20 of the cheapest brand of cigarettes in 2010 was 11 roubles ($0.36; 0.27 euros) while a popular Western brand sold for 48 roubles ($1.6; 1.2 euros).
The United Nations has suspended an anti-polio campaign in Pakistan after three more health workers died in the latest of a spate of gun attacks.
Attacks in the Peshawar region killed a female vaccination supervisor and her driver, as well as a student volunteer.
Coming after five deaths on Tuesday, the UN said it was suspending its three-day vaccination drive.
No group has claimed responsibility, but the Taliban have issued threats against the UN’s anti-polio campaign.
Pakistan is one of just three countries where the disease is still endemic.
The UN children’s agency Unicef and the World Health Organization were suspending work on the programme nationwide after Wednesday’s bloodshed, said Unicef spokesman Michael Coleman.
The programme was halted in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces on Tuesday after four female health workers were shot dead in the city, while another female worker was killed in an attack in Peshawar.
The vaccination supervisor and her driver died when their car was sprayed by gunmen riding motorbikes in Charsadda district, north of Peshawar, police said.
The student volunteer was shot in the head when gunmen on two motorbikes fired at a team of vaccinators in a northern suburb of Peshawar.
The UN has suspended an anti-polio campaign in Pakistan after three more health workers died in the latest of a spate of gun attacks
Gunmen riding motorbikes also shot at polio vaccinators in another area of Charsadda and in the adjoining district of Nowshera, although no injuries were reported.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Tuesday condemned the attacks and praised the work of the polio vaccination teams, calling on regional authorities to guarantee their safety.
Wednesday is the final day of a three-day nationwide anti-polio drive – during which an estimated 5.2 million polio drops were to be administered.
There has been opposition to such immunization drives in parts of Pakistan, particularly after a fake CIA hepatitis vaccination campaign helped to locate Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
Militants have kidnapped and killed foreign NGO workers in the past in an attempt to halt the immunization drives, which they say are part of efforts to spy on them.
Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only other countries where polio is still endemic.
Pakistan is considered the key battleground in the global fight against the disease, which attacks the nervous system and can cause permanent paralysis within hours of infection.
Almost 200 children were paralyzed in the country in 2011 – the worst figures in 15 years.
Earlier this year, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative warned that tackling the disease had entered “emergency mode” after “explosive” outbreaks in countries previously free of polio.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said polio was at a tipping point, with experts fearing it could “come back with a vengeance” after large outbreaks in Africa and Tajikistan and China’s first recorded cases for more than a decade.
Declaring polio a national emergency, the Pakistani government is targeting 33 million children for vaccination with some 88,000 health workers delivering vaccination drops.
A new research has contradicted the idea that exercise is more important than diet in the fight against obesity.
A study of the Hadza tribe, who still exist as hunter gatherers, suggests the amount of calories we need is a fixed human characteristic.
This suggests Westerners are growing obese through over-eating rather than having inactive lifestyles, say scientists.
One in 10 people will be obese by 2015.
And, nearly one in three of the worldwide population is expected to be overweight, according to figures from the World Health Organization.
The Western lifestyle is thought to be largely to blame for the obesity “epidemic”.
Various factors are involved, including processed foods high in sugar and fat, large portion sizes, and a sedentary lifestyle where cars and machines do most of the daily physical work.
A study of the Hadza tribe, who still exist as hunter gatherers, suggests the amount of calories we need is a fixed human characteristic
The relative balance of overeating to lack of exercise is a matter of debate, however.
Some experts have proposed that our need for calories has dropped drastically since the industrial revolution, and this is a bigger risk factor for obesity than changes in diet.
The study, published in the PLoS ONE journal, tested the theory, by looking at energy expenditure in the Hadza tribe of Tanzania.
The Hadza people, who still live as hunter gatherers, were used as a model of the ancient human lifestyle.
Members of the 1,000-strong population hunt animals and forage for berries, roots and fruit on foot, using bows, small axes, and digging sticks. They don’t use modern tools or guns.
A team of scientists from the US, Tanzania and the UK, measured energy expenditure in 30 Hadza men and women aged between 18 and 75.
They found physical activity levels were much higher in the Hadza men and women, but when corrected for size and weight, their metabolic rate was no different to that of Westerners.
Dr. Herman Pontzer of the department of anthropology at Hunter College, New York, said everyone had assumed that hunter gatherers would burn hundreds more calories a day than adults in the US and Europe.
The data came as a surprise, he said, highlighting the complexity of energy expenditure.
But he stressed that physical exercise is nonetheless important for maintaining good health.
“This to me says that the big reason that Westerners are getting fat is because we eat too much – it’s not because we exercise too little,” said Dr. Herman Pontzer.
“Being active is really important to your health but it won’t keep you thin – we need to eat less to do that.
“Daily energy expenditure might be an evolved trait that has been shaped by evolution and is common among all people and not some simple reflection of our diverse lifestyles.”
A new study showed three drugs given in combination killed more than 99% of tuberculosis bacteria after two weeks of treatment.
The therapy appeared to be equally effective on the drug-resistant form of the disease in the trials of 85 patients, a team led by Stellenbosch University in South Africa reported.
Larger studies are now taking place to further test the technique.
A new study showed three drugs given in combination killed more than 99 percent of TB bacteria after two weeks of treatment
TB is one of the oldest and most deadly infectious diseases.
About 1.4 million people a year die each year from it, mainly in developing countries.
Current treatments usually involve people taking drugs daily for six months.
The drug-resistant strain is much harder to treat and can involve up to two years of therapy.
Of the three drugs used in this study, published in the Lancet, one is new, while another is not yet licensed.
Andreas Diacon, lead researcher for the trial, said: “The results of this study give healthcare providers on the front-lines of the TB epidemic hope for better, faster tools needed to stop this disease.”
Mario Raviglione, a TB expert at the World Health Organization, said: “The results look strongly promising from this early trial.
“We could shorten drug regimens substantially for everyone, regardless of whether the form of TB is sensitive or multi-drug resistant.”
Experts writing in the Lancet have explained that drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade.
Studies on 26,000 untreated HIV-positive people in developing countries were reviewed by the team.
They said resistance could build up if people fail to stick to drug regimes, and because monitoring could be poor.
The researchers, from the World Health Organization (WHO) and University College London (UCL) found the most rapid increase in drug resistance occurred in East Africa, at 29% per year. In Southern Africa, it was 14% per year.
Drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in parts of sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade
There was no change in resistance over time in Latin America and in West and Central Africa.
Writing in the Lancet, authors Dr. Silvia Bertagnolio from the WHO and Dr. Ravindra Gupta at UCL said: “Without continued and increased national and international efforts, rising HIV drug resistance could jeopardize a decade-long trend of decreasing HIV/Aids-related illness and death in low- and middle-income countries.”
Dr. Ravindra Gupta said: “Drug resistance is a consequence of people not taking their medication properly.
“We do expect to see drug resistance, and it’s at around 10% in the UK and US. But here, we monitor people regularly and switch people to different drugs if they develop resistance.”
He said that quite basic measures could help people to better adhere to drug regimes in developing countries, such as access to food and clean water so they can take their drugs, and monitoring patients as effectively as possible.
The researchers said no changes were needed to the drug regimes, but Dr. Ravindra Gupta said: “This work gives us an early-warning that things could get worse.”
Diesel engines exhaust fumes do cause cancer, a panel of experts working for the World Health Organization says.
It concluded that the exhausts were definitely a cause of lung cancer and may also cause tumors in the bladder.
It based the findings on research in high-risk workers such as miners, railway workers and truck drivers.
However, the panel said everyone should try to reduce their exposure to diesel exhaust fumes.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a part of the World Health Organization, had previously labeled diesel exhausts as probably carcinogenic to humans.
WHO experts concluded that diesel exhausts were definitely a cause of lung cancer and may also cause tumors in the bladder
IARC has now labeled exhausts as a definite cause of cancer, although it does not compare how risky different carcinogens are. Diesel exhausts are now in the same group as carcinogens ranging from wood chippings to plutonium and sunlight to alcohol.
It is thought people working in at-risk industries have about a 40% increased risk of developing lung cancer.
Dr. Christopher Portier, who led the assessment, said: “The scientific evidence was compelling and the Working Group’s conclusion was unanimous, diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans.
“Given the additional health impacts from diesel particulates, exposure to this mixture of chemicals should be reduced worldwide.”
The impact on the wider population, which is exposed to diesel fumes at much lower levels and for shorter periods of time, is unknown.
Dr. Kurt Straif, also from IARC, said: “For most of the carcinogens when there is high exposure the risk is higher, when there is lower exposure the risk is lower.”
There have been considerable efforts to clean up diesel exhausts. Lower sulphur fuel and engines which burn the fuel more efficiently are now in use.
World Health Organization experts have delayed a decision on whether controversial research into the H5N1 bird flu virus should be released.
It had been looking at how the work could be released while guarding against its abuse by bioterrorists.
But talks at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva decided more discussions were needed to see if it could be possible to publish in full.
One of the two journals which want to publish has already agreed to wait for talks to be complete.
The controversy is centred on two research papers – one of which was submitted to Science, the other to another leading journal, Nature, last year.
The two papers showed that the H5N1 virus could relatively easily mutate into a form that could spread rapidly among the human population.
World Health Organization experts have delayed a decision on whether controversial research into the H5N1 bird flu virus should be released
The studies prompted the US National Security Advisory Board for Biotechnology (NSABB) to ask both journals last November to redact some sensitive parts of the research, which it believed could be used by terrorists to develop such a virus.
The request caused outcry among some scientists who believed that it was an infringement of academic freedom.
Some pointed out that the scientists had given presentations about their work at conferences and the details were already widely circulated, so redaction would have little purpose.
The scientists who carried out the research, and the journals concerned, have been considering the request and listening to suggestions as to how the research results could be redacted in the scientific journals, but distributed to bona fide researchers who urgently need the information.
The information is vital to develop a vaccine to any human form of bird flu, and it would enable surveillance teams to see if the bird flu virus was mutating into a form that could be transmissible to humans.
But such efforts have been put on hold for four months as governments, scientists and the journals decide what to do.
The Geneva meeting of 22 scientists and journal representatives agreed that publishing only parts of the research would not be helpful, because they would not give the full context of a complete paper.
It agreed to extend a temporary moratorium on research using lab-modified H5N1 viruses, but also recognized that research on naturally occurring virus “must continue”.
Dr. Keji Fukada, assistant director-general of health security and environment for the WHO, said: “Given the high death rate associated with this virus – 60% of all humans who have been infected have died – all participants at the meeting emphasized the high level of concern with this flu virus in the scientific community and the need to understand it better with additional research.
“The results of this new research have made it clear that H5N1 viruses have the potential to transmit more easily between people underscoring the critical importance for continued surveillance and research with this virus.”
Dr. Keji Fukada added: “There is a preference from a public health perspective for full disclosure of the information in these two studies. However there are significant public concern surrounding this research that should first be addressed.”
Experts will now look at what information is already in the public domain and how that relates to the contents of these research papers.
A further meeting is likely to happen in a couple of months’ time.
Nature has said it is happy to wait – if there is a chance it will able to publish in full.
Science’s editor Dr. Bruce Alberts, had previously said it also wanted to publish full details of the work, unless progress was made on how to circulate details of the findings to scientists.
Scientists who created a mutant bird flu, a potentially more deadly strain, have temporarily stopped their research amid fears of bioterrorism.
In a letter published in Science and Nature, the scientists call for an “international forum” to debate the risks and value of the studies.
US authorities last month asked the authors of the research to redact key details in forthcoming publications.
A government advisory panel suggested the data could be used by terrorists.
Biosecurity experts fear a mutant form of the virus could spark a pandemic deadlier than the 1918-19 Spanish flu outbreak that killed up to 40 million people.
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended key details to be omitted from publication of the research, which sparked international furor.
“I would have preferred if this hadn’t caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can’t change that,” Ron Fouchier, a researcher from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, told Science Insider.
“So I think it’s the right step to make.”
While bird flu is deadly, its reach has been limited because it is not transmissible between humans.
However, the H5N1 flu virus was altered to be passed easily between ferrets, during the joint research by Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US.
Two scientific journals want to publish the research – albeit in redacted form – and are trying to work out with the US government how to make the data accessible to “responsible scientists”.
H5N1 flu virus was altered to be passed easily between ferrets, during the joint research by Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US
The World Health Organization said in a December statement that limiting access to the research would harm an agreement between its members.
The NSABB is made up of scientists and public health experts, 23 from outside the government, and 18 from within.
It cannot stop publication but makes recommendations to researchers.
The scientists’ letter published on Friday argues that knowledge of more infectious strains before they mutate in nature is valuable for public health.
“More research is needed to determine how influenza viruses in nature become human pandemic threats,” the statement says, “so that they can be contained before they acquire the ability to transmit from human to human, or so that appropriate countermeasures can be deployed if adaptation to humans occurs.”
But some said the pause on research was not enough.
One critic of the studies, Richard Ebright, a biologist at Rutgers University, told Science Insider that the letter “includes flatly false statements” making assurances about the safety of H1N1 research labs.
Reports say that a meeting debating the research and steps forward could come during a World Health Organization meeting in February.