News H7N9: Avian flu kills further

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There have been no new infections with the bird flu pathogen H7N9 in China for weeks. But now another person has died of the dangerous virus. Nevertheless, scientists want to experiment with the flu virus.

It is the 45th death caused by the H7N9 bird flu virus. The victim is a man who, according to the news agency “China News Service”, died on Monday of multiple organ failure. Further details were not disclosed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 135 infections with H7N9 have been registered so far.

Experiments with H7N9 planned

Just a few days ago, the H7N9 bird flu virus hit the headlines again, although the last infection with the pathogen was weeks ago. Because it is believed that infection with H7N9 is also possible through human-to-human transmission, some scientists are planning to experiment with the bird flu virus. In specially secured laboratories, they want to genetically modify the virus, make it mutate and thereby make it more aggressive. The modified genes will then be tested on ferrets. The aim of these tests is to find out how the virus must change before it can easily be transmitted from person to person in order to be able to assess the risk of a pandemic. In its current state, H7N9 is apparently very difficult to transmit from person to person – because the majority of those infected are said to have been infected directly from birds. Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ron Fouchier from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam are the two researchers who want to carry out the experiments on the bird flu virus. The two had already experimented with the bird flu virus H5N1 in 2011, from which, according to the WHO, over 300 people have died since 2003. For fear of giving terrorists a blueprint for a bioweapon, the US government in particular urged that the research results not be published. The attempts of the scientists had triggered fierce criticism worldwide, which is why they finally paused their research.

Can H7N9 be genetically modified?

Kawaoka and Fouchier see the research on the H7N9 bird flu as necessary and argue in a statement: “The danger of a pandemic caused by a bird flu virus exists in nature. Gain-of-function experiments may also be necessary to answer key questions that are important to public health. These should then be done. ”However, many experts do not share this opinion. The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Zeng Guang countered this: “From the point of view of the security of all mankind, such experiments are unsustainable. There are no mechanisms that guarantee absolute security here. ”The competent authorities are now to check whether the research can start.

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