Zac Goldsmith – 2014 Parliamentary Question to the Department of Health

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Zac Goldsmith on 2014-06-16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what assessment he has made of reports that scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created a virus that closely resembles the 1918 Spanish flu strain; whether he has made an assessment of the potential threat to the UK population arising from that experiment; and whether the Government has made any representation to the US administration on this matter.

Jane Ellison

Public Health England (PHE) was advised that the work undertaken at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been reviewed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, in keeping with the institute’s implementation of the United States Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern.

As part of this, PHE understand that the research was carried out in secure facilities with high levels of containment. A key finding of the research was that people vaccinated with the current seasonal influenza vaccine (which protects against 2009 H1N1 influenza, a related virus) had some evidence of protection against the novel virus that had been created. In addition, the team showed that the novel transmissible virus is expected to be sensitive to the antiviral medication oseltamivir. Effective counter measures to this novel virus are therefore available.

This research provides information on the mechanisms responsible for adaptation of avian influenza viruses to mammals. Knowing what genes are associated with a potentially severe pandemic strain can help predict the likelihood of a strain emerging and help devise appropriate counter measures.