Flu virus was not lab creation, WHO says

May 15th, 2009 - 1:22 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, May 14 (DPA) There is no evidence to support a theory that the new influenza A(H1N1) virus was created in a laboratory, a World Health Organisation official said Thursday.
Scientists associated with the WHO had taken the theory seriously, said Keiji Fukuda, the organisation’s head of health security, and looked into the claim.

“This group of scientist believes that this hypothesis does not stand up to scrutiny,” Fukuda told reporters in Geneva, saying it was most likely a “naturally occurring virus”.

An Australian scientist, Adrian Gibbs, had submitted a paper to the WHO Saturday in which he had put forth his theory.

Fukuda said the incident was a “good example” of cross-border cooperation and scientists taking advantage of the way modern technology allows them to share information, unlike at any other time in history.

Also, the official said there were so far no signs that the virus, also known as swine flu, was showing resistance to anti-viral drugs.

Fukuda said the WHO would like to see anti-virals made available “as broadly and widely as possible”, and the organisation was working with poorer nations to achieve this. It has already distributed some 2.4 million doses to the world’s least developed countries and Mexico.

The Swiss drugmaker Roche, which produces an anti-viral, donated 5.65 million doses to the WHO earlier this week.

The British charity Oxfam has called on the WHO to support the creation of generic anti-virals, which could then be bought at a cheaper price by developing countries.

The WHO said that there was little interest in some countries to produce such an anti-viral until the recent outbreak of H1N1.

Similarly, Oxfam said that for any vaccine eventually created against the virus there should be an “equitable distribution” to all countries.

In Geneva Thursday there was a meeting at the WHO between pharmaceutical companies and advisory groups to the health agency, looking to tackle questions regarding the production of vaccines.

One such issue would be when to order the mass production of a vaccine, once created, and whether it should come at the expense of vaccines for seasonal flu.

The issue of pandemic influenza will likely feature prominently at next week’s annual World Health Assembly at the WHO.

There are 6,497 confirmed cases of influenza A(H1N1) infections in 33 countries, the World Health Organization’s latest figures showed.

The US has reported 3,352 laboratory-confirmed human cases, including three deaths. Mexico reported 2,446 laboratory infections, including 60 deaths, up four from the previous tally a day earlier.

Canada had one death from 389 cases, while Costa Rica has reported eight cases, including one death.

In Europe, Spain remained hardest hit with 100 cases while Britain reported 71.

The WHO has said that most cases of the virus have shown the disease to be relatively mild.

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