WHO postpones decision on destruction of smallpox stocks — again

The stalemate continues over the question of when to destroy the last stocks of the virus that causes smallpox, a killer disease that was eradicated in 1980. One of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) two advisory committees on smallpox supports their destruction, while the other opposes this. Last weekend, health ministers of the WHO’s 194 member states again postponed a decision, and decided to set up a third WHO smallpox advisory committee in a bid to broker a consensus.  Read more

Novel China flu seems to pose low risk to humans

The H10N8 avian flu strain, first detected in humans in a 73-year old woman in Eastern China this month, appears to pose little immediate risk to people, despite her death, preliminary information has shown. The sequence of the virus has not yet been published, but Nature has learned that the haemagglutinin surface protein shows none of the worrysome amino acid changes that typically would allow the virus to infect humans. This means that, unlike H7N9, which is behind a current fatal flu outbreak in southern Guangdong province, the virus cannot easily jump from poultry or other birds to humans.  Read more

Mutant-flu researchers appeal Dutch court ruling on export permits

The Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where researchers led by Ron Fouchier created mammalian-transmissible strains of the H5N1 avian flu virus this week appealed a September court ruling obliging it to request an export permit before submitting such research for publication.  Read more

Court upholds need for export permits for risky flu research

The researcher who created mammalian-transmissible strains of the H5N1 avian flu virus, raising fears they could cause a pandemic, has failed in an attempt to overcome government restrictions on the publication of his papers. See Nature News Mutant Flu special  … Read more

US justice system ‘overreach’ blamed in suicide of Internet-freedom activist

This weekend, the Internet world mourned one of its heroes, Aaron Swartz, 26, a prodigy, programmer and well-known Internet activist, who hung himself in his New York apartment on Friday. Swartz was to face an imminent trial for having downloaded some 4 million articles from JSTOR, a not-for-profit scholarly archive, from the MIT campus which hosts the archive. He faced extraordinarily severe charges – see here and here – carrying a possible penalty of 35 years in prison, and over $1 million dollars in fines. Swartz was reported to suffer from serious depression, but some including his immediate family have explicitly alleged that the pending charges contributed to his suicide. (Serious depression is more common than one might think – see “Global survey reveals impact of disability.”)  … Read more

European food authority to open up GMO data

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) today made public almost all supporting documents and data submitted by Monsanto for the authorisation in 2003 of its genetically modified maize NK603. The data was released alongside the announcement by EFSA that it intends to embark on a broad transparency initiative designed to make data from its risks assessments more available to the broad scientific community and other interested parties.  Read more

Family cluster of novel coronavirus cases reported in Saudi Arabia

The World Health Organization (WHO) this afternoon reported four new lab-confirmed cases of a novel coronavirus infection bringing the total number of cases identified since June to six. Two of the cases are from the same household, raising the possibility of human-to-human transmission of the virus, although it’s also possible that they both contracted it independently from an animal source in the area. Three of the new cases occurred in Saudi Arabia, including one who died, while a fourth case was reported in Qatar. The WHO gave few further details of the cases, such as their age or sex, or their current medical condition.  Read more

Malaria programme gets kiss of death from Global Fund

It appears that the Affordable Medicines Facility – Malaria (AMF-m) is being scuttled by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The AMF-m is a multimillion dollar programme to get effective drugs – artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) – to remote rural villages where the local store is often the main provider of medicines.  Read more