November 15, 2005
Ott Gibe M
As winter approaches, virus-carrying birds and
shortages might make this a flu season to dread
The good, the bad & the unknown on bird flui
By Michael Kan U Daily Science Editor
The flu season is back and this time no one wants to be
chicken about it.
In the latest incarnation of the seemingly run-of-the
-mill disease, a new strain of influenza known as bird flu has
countries and health organizations across the world on increas-
For Americans, there's good news and bad news about bird
The disease has not yet reached the United States.
But if it does it could lead to the deaths of thousands and
there is no bird flu vaccine available.
Unlike other forms of flu, the disease can only pass from
bird to person.
Yet the virus
reportedly kills 50 to 70 It it b
percent of its victims.
"This is an alarming that there will
rate of mortality," said
Matthew Boulton, associ- be another
ate professor of epidemiol-
ogy. "Fifty percent of them pandemic
dying is concerning."
More common influenza
strains prevalent among o- Arnold Monto
humans kill only about 1 Epidemiology Prof.
person for every 1,000.
First detected in a 1997
outbreak in Hong Kong,
the strain is predomi-
nately carried by birds and has permeated throughout Asia and
most recently appeared in Europe.
So far, bird flu has led to the deaths of more than 60 people
in Asia. But if the disease mutates to the point it can infect
from human to human, the World Health Organization esti-
mates 2 to 7.4 million could die from the disease. It's the worst-
case scenario that doctors fear could lead to the next global flu
Boulton, an expert on influenza, said the lethality of the disease
is still in question since there may be more mild cases of the bird
flu that have gone unreported. But it's clear, he said, that while
more common flu strains tend to threaten the lives of the elderly
and the very young, bird flu won't single anyone out.
Strategies to contain a potential flu pandemic have left coun-
tries scrambling to eradicate bird populations and develop a
bird flu vaccine. The main focus of these efforts aim to thwart
any chances for the disease becoming passable from human to
"The flu virus in terms of the genetic makeup is a bit pli-
able," Boulton said. "It can change; it can undergo major or
minor genetic changes. We see this all the time. That's why the
effectiveness of flu vaccines varies."
Because of the flu's malleable genetic makeup, researchers
worry that if a person infected with a human influenza strain
also becomes infected with bird flu, the two strains would
exchange genetic traits, Boulton said. The result: "The avian flu
would procure the ability to transmit from person to person," he
Bird flu generally spreads through infected birds feces, naval
secretions and undercooked meat. Health officials have attempt-
ed to isolate all cases of the bird flu as a result.
Although antiviral drugs are available to treat people with bird
flu, Boulton noted that many of the people who have died from the
disease took drugs with little effect.
Epidemiology Prof. Arnold Monto said of the bird flu, "There
are so many unknowns."
Instead, only the potential threats of the disease are evident.
Because birds are the main hosts of the disease, the mobility of
the flu strain can span continents.
Monto said the chances of bird flu arriving in America are
small because birds with the flu most likely will not cross over
the Pacific into North America.
But he did note that as winter approaches many of those infect-
ed birds will migrate toward Africa, a continent ill-equipped to
contain bird flu.
In response to a potential flu pandemic and past shortages on
the flu vaccine, President Bush recently announced a $7.1-bil-
lion plan to produce enough vaccine for all Americans. Along
with the development of vaccines to combat newer strains of the
flu, the proposal, yet to be passed by Congress, will also fund
efforts to contain flu outbreaks abroad.
Robert Winfield, director of University Health Service, said
of the plan: "It appears to me to be a very reasonable approach,
... but it may take several years to achieve."
Boulton criticized the plan for diverting authority of flu
response from Health and Human Services to the Department
of Homeland Security, an agency he feels lacks the apititude to
prevent flu pandemics. Homeland Security has taken heat for its
response to Hurricane Katrina in the past months.
Boulton added, "It's taken a long time to get President Bush's
attention, and we could have used the two years (before talk
began on a plan) to prepare."
As for common flu strains putting a damper on students' plans,
Winfield said this year he anticipates UHS will run out of vaccine
in the next week. In the fall of last year, Michigan also endured a
flu vaccine shortage, forcing the state to restrict distribution of vac-
cines. On Saturday he estimated UHS had only 50 doses left.
"The manufacturing capacity is not sufficient worldwide," he
said, as most pharmaceutical companies opt to produce more
profitable drugs that are in greater demand.
But should students be worried about flu?
In 1918 and 1957, Winfield said, millions of people across the
world died due to flu pandemics. Many of the victims were of
college age and younger. But besides those pandemics, "(Flu) is
not terribly deadly for young people," Winfield said, adding that
most students generally aren't aware of the flu's deadly past.
"But I think that one of the reasons it's downplayed is that the
GRAPHIC BY GERVIS MENZIES
epidemics are 20 to 30 years apart," he said.
"It's inevitable that there will be another pandemic," Monto said.
No one can predict what age groups will be affected the most or whether
bird flu will ultimately provide the spark that gives way to a pandemic.
"But it's not inevitable if it will be a disastrous pandemic," Monto said.
"We can prepare for it and try to stop it from becoming a disaster."
* Researcher's ethics charges
jeopardize cloning program
0 Project stymied after
scientist is accused of
misl eading colleagues
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The work of
the world's foremost human cloning research-
er, Hwang Woo-suk, has been thrown under
an ethical cloud, jeopardizing the bold inter-
national cloning project that he and several
prominent U.S. researchers announced just
The World Stem Cell Hub foundation had
announced plans to open cloning centers in
San Francisco and London. But U.S. support
for the effort is now waning after Hwang was
accused of obtaining egg donations from a
subordinate and misleading a U.S. collabora-
tor about it.
The scientific dustup is also renewing
debate over the thorny issue of how scientists
plan to collect women's eggs vital to their
controversial work. Thousands of eggs are
necessary to complete cloning projects, and
few ethical guidelines exist governing how
donors should be treated.
The San Francisco-based Pacific Fertility
Clinic, which had said it would help the stem
cell hub collect eggs beginning in January,
said on Monday that it has severed all ties
with Hwang and has dropped all involvement
with cloning research.
Clinic spokesman Scott Kaplan declined
Meanwhile, the nonprofit Childrens Neu-
robiological Solutions Foundation said it was
putting on hold a grant application from the
e~r-a eta cal hn
made," said Shane Smith, science director of
the Santa Barbara nonprofit that seeks treat-
ments for childhood brain disorders. Smith
declined to give the amount of the grant
request but said it exceeded the small non-
profit's usual maximum of $75,000.
University of Pittsburgh cloning research-
er Gerald Schatten said on Saturday that he
resigned from the stem cell hub and ended his
20-month collaboration with Hwang because
of the South Korean's "unethical practices"
in collecting eggs from a volunteer then mis-
leading Schatten about it.
Schatten released a statement on Saturday
announcing his resignation from the stem
cell hub and has declined further comment.
Last year, Hwang's team at Seoul National
University became the first to successfully
clone a human embryo. Since then, though,
rumors have swirled that some of the 242
eggs used in the experiment were donated
by subordinate scientists in Hwang's famed
Scientists and ethicists said yesterday that
collecting eggs from an employee is unethi-
cal because of the potential for subordinates
to feel coerced.
Hwang has steadfastly denied those accu-
sations and again defended his research on
Monday in Seoul.
"All research up until now has been con-
ducted in strict observance of the govern-
ment-set guidelines," Hwang said, according
to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. He
didn't elaborate, saying he would "divulge
everything" at an appropriate time.
Nonetheless, Schatten's accusation has cast
a dark cloud over Hwang's work and is rais-
ing anew one of the thorniest ethical dilem-
mc -lrnino reanrcherQ fare in nllecting
"All research up
until now has been
conducted in strict
- Hwang Woo-suk
There are no known human cloning proj-
ects ongoing in the United States, though
Harvard University researchers have asked
school officials for permission and the $3-
billion California Institute for Regenerative
Medicine said it would fund such work.
Stem cell scientists hope to clone embryos
to extract stem cells in order to watch how
diseases develop and create new drugs.
The basic idea of cloning is to take a
patient's genetic material and plop it into
an unfertilized human egg. The implanted
DNA then drives the egg to develop into an
The problem is how to obtain the eggs,
especially considering how inefficient clon-
ing technology is. South Korean research-
ers in 2004 used 242 eggs from 16 donors to
yield just one cloned human embryo, which
was detroved aftersenveral danvs toextract
A whale shark swims over another fish in the Georgia Aquarium.
Largest aquariu i
opens i n Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) - The whale sharks
are kings of the 6-million-gallon tank, their
presence palpable even before they emerge
from the murky darkness like massive star
cruisers in a science fiction film.
Once visitors to the new Georgia Aquar-
ium have seen Ralph and Norton - the
only whale sharks on display outside of
Asia - they will still have at least 99,998
more fish to go.
When the aquarium opens Nov. 23, it
will become the world's largest by virtu-
ally all maior standards of the industry.
Olympic Park, and it lies across the
street from the CNN Center and the
Georgia Dome. In 2007, a new World-of
Coca-Cola museum is expected to open
next door. The city also is a finalist as
a location for NASCAR's hall of fame,
which would be built in what is now a
parking lot near the other attractions.
Shaped like an abstract cruise ship
looming over downtown Atlanta's
Centennial Olympic Park, the aquari-
um is expected to attract as many as 2.
million visitors in its first year.