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Canadian Lab Recreates 1918 Flu Virus


The National Microbiology Laboratory in Canada has recreated the 1918 influenza virus that killed up to 50 million people, renewing fears that such research could be conducted for harmful purposes, the CanWest News Service reported today (see GSN, Oct. 6, 2005).

Research at the Winnipeg facility builds upon the 2005 U.S. recreation of the extinct virus.

“This is the second time 1918 influenza virus A has been reconstructed,” said Harvard University Medical School virologist Jens Kuhn. “Therefore, the study demonstrates that this, albeit difficult, task could be recreated anywhere, including in laboratories in hostile countries or terrorist groups who might not have public health at heart.”

Studying the 1918 virus could help improve researchers’ understanding of the lethality of some flus, Kuhn said and others said.

“You have to work with the devil somewhat to figure out what is going on,” said University of Ottawa virologist Earl Brown.

Kuhn said, though, that the Canadian research “raises some concerns.” There is no indication that international review and approval was given before experiments began, he said.

“Indirectly, this paper therefore legitimizes similar experiments in any laboratory of the world, with the risk of laboratory accidents or virus release into the environment increasing with every new laboratory undertaking them,” he said by e-mail.

The Canadian project received approval from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Council on Animal Care, scientists said.

Researchers injected the virus into monkeys in order to study its virulence. Further experiments are planned, but the virus will not be allowed to leave the Biosafety Level 4 laboratory, scientists told the News Service (Margaret Munro, CanWest News Service, Jan. 19).