As the death toll reaches 22 in China, scientists are finally admitting that this particular strain of flu is “different”, you might say. As we covered last week here at K-TFRN, this particular strain of avian flu tends to spread rapidly among poultry without causing noticeable illness, and that, in an astronomical coincidence, the PB2 segments of the four available human virus genome sequences from China all carry the same mutation that H7N7 in the Netherlands in 2003 did that killed three out of four people who contracted that particular re-assortment. It’s called the mammalian adaptation marker “PB2 E627K”. (This new ability has already been termed “Gain-of-function”by the CDC, NIH, and WHO, as you will read further along in the article.)
In other words, as Yahoo News is now reporting, this strain of flu is unlike any other they’ve encountered. Like the H1N1 Swine flu of 2009, it’s a “triple reassortant” (In plain English, that means it has 3 types of strains that have all mutated together), which was one of the biggest indicators to independent doctors and researches back in ’09 that it was made in a laboratory. However, it is a bird flu virus and not a mammalian one. It has the genetic ability to be both a “bird flu virus” (which is incredibly more dangerous than mammalian, or “swine” flu) and also carry the PB2 segment mutation to make it even MORE lethal.
Recent pandemic viruses, including the H1N1 “swine flu” of 2009/2010, have been mixtures of mammal and bird flu – hybrids that are more likely to be milder because mammalian flu tends to make people less severely ill than bird flu. Pure bird flu strains, such as the new H7N9 strain and the H5N1 flu, which has killed about 371 of 622 the people it has infected since 2003, are generally more deadly for people.
As we also reported last week, the biggest challenge to poultry culling is the absence of illness in the birds. As Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security said:
“…we may just be seeing the most serious infections” at this point. Based on the evidence, “this virus is more easily transmissible from poultry to humans than H5N1,”
John Oxford, a flu virologist at Queen Mary University of London, said the emergence of human H7N9 infections – a completely new strain in people – was “very, very unsettling. This virus seems to have been quietly spreading in chickens without anyone knowing about it,” he told Reuters in London. Flu experts say it is likely that more cases of human infection with H7N9 flu will emerge in the coming weeks and months, at least until the source of infection has been completely confirmed and effectively controlled.
According to France24, Taiwan has also reported its’ first case of H7N9 in a man who recently traveled to mainland China. This would be the first official case found “off the mainland”.
However, there has been a “dramatic slowdown” in presenting cases of H7N9 in Shanghai (where most of the deaths have occurred), which Anne Kelso, the Melbourne-based director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, said was “encouraging.”
Back in June 2008, the CDC released a report specifically focusing on Influenza A H7 viruses and their “enhanced potential” to infect humans.
CDC Finds Some Bird Flu Strains have Acquired Properties that Might Enhance Potential to Infect Humans
For Immediate Release: June 10, 2008
Contact: CDC, Division of Media Relations, (404) 639-3286
ATLANTA, Ga.-The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released results of a study suggesting that some North American avian influenza A H7 virus strains have properties that might enhance their potential to infect humans as well as their potential to spread from human to human….
“We know that influenza viruses are constantly changing and that is why it′s so important to watch them carefully. In this study, we discovered that some recently identified avian influenza A H7 viruses have some properties that could enhance their potential to infect people and possibly spread among people,” explained Dr. Jessica Belser, CDC lead author on the project….
This study′s findings suggest that these North American avian influenza A H7 viruses are partially adapted to recognize sugar receptors preferred by human influenza viruses which are found in the human upper respiratory tract…
“Contemporary North American Influenza H7 viruses possess human receptor specificity: implications for virus transmissibility” by Jessica Belser, Claudia Pappas, Taronna R. Maines, Neal Van Hoeven, Li-Mei Chen, Ruben Donis, Jacqueline M. Katz and Terrence M. Tumpey of the Influenza Division, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Ola Blixt, Julia Busch, Ryan McBride, James C. Paulson of the Departments of Physiological Chemistry and Molecular Biology, The Scripps Research Institute. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. May 27, 2008.
More recently, however, was the NIH conference last December, entitled, “Gain-of-Function Research on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 Viruses: An International Consultative Workshop. This workshop specifically addressed the concern of something called “Gain-of-function” research.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sponsored an international consultative workshop on December 17-18, 2012 on Gain-of-Function Research on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 Viruses. The purpose of this workshop was to provide a forum for sharing multidisciplinary international perspectives on research that aims to increase transmissibility, increase pathogenicity, and/or alter host range of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 viruses. Specific issues for discussion included the implications of such research for global public health; risks and concerns associated with this research; the risks of not conducting such research; fundamental principles regarding the conduct and oversight of such research; and conditions under which such research might be conducted. Perspectives were presented by individuals from around the globe who collectively have a broad range of expertise in such areas as influenza, other infectious diseases, dual use research, bioethics, national and global public health, biosecurity, epidemiology, national security, public health surveillance, biosafety, biosecurity agriculture/veterinary sciences, the WHO International Health Regulations and the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, global public health law, and medical countermeasure development. In addition, participants had the opportunity to exercise a proposed HHS funding framework through discussion of a series of case studies.
In the proposed HHS funding framework, we find the following:
In 2011, two studies funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which examined the mammalian transmissibility of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 viruses, raised concerns regarding the potential for a global pandemic due to accidental or intentional release of an engineered virus or misuse of the research information. The public debate that ensued over the communication of the research findings raised questions as to whether the Federal government should fund research that alters key biological properties of HPAI H5N1 viruses—specifically, research that increases transmissibility, increases pathogenicity, and/or alters the host range—and if so, under what conditions. For the purposes of this paper, studies that enhance these biological properties are referred to as “gain-of-function” research…
In light of the difficult and important questions raised by the debate over whether and how to conduct and communicate gain-of-function studies, the influenza research community initiated a voluntary moratorium in January 2012 on research with HPAI H5N1 viruses that could generate new viruses with increased transmissibility in mammals, or any research with H5N1 or H5 HA reassortant viruses already shown to be transmissible in ferrets.3,4…
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a major funder of influenza research, and as such will need to determine which, if any, HPAI H5N1 gain-of-function research projects are acceptable for HHS funding….
Gain-of-function studies that raise particular concern are those that generate mammalian-transmissible HPAI H5N1 viruses. Therefore, the HHS framework requires that proposals that are anticipated to generate mammalian-transmissible strains (as well as viruses with other gain-of-function attributes) require Department-level review in order to be deemed acceptable for funding by HHS….
The Department may recommend that certain HPAI H5N1 gain-of-function research is not appropriate for HHS funding because the associated risks cannot be adequately managed if the research were conducted and communicated openly. However, research that is deemed unacceptable for HHS funding, yet is determined to have high scientific and public health merit, could be referred to another department for possible funding under classified conditions.
After Departmental-level review, HHS may determine that the HPAI H5N1 gain-of-function research proposal is:
Acceptable for HHS funding with usual terms and conditions for HHS-funded awards;
Acceptable for HHS funding with additional terms and conditions concerning conduct of the research;
Not acceptable for HHS funding, but will be referred to another Federal agency that funds classified research;13 orNot acceptable for HHS funding.
As a general matter, HHS does not fund classified research, but the Department-level review could recommend that a scientifically meritorious proposal that was likely to generate sensitive information be referred to other Federal agencies that support classified research. Such cases are anticipated to be extremely rare.
“Gain-of-function” research is biological warfare language describing the “tweaking” of genetic elements of a virus to increase its’ virulence, transmissability, pathogenicity or that alters the “host range” (In other words, making a virus more deadly and able to spread between humans).
According to the NIH, the “Dual Use Research Program is a focal point for the development of policies addressing life sciences research that yield information or technologies with the potential to be misused to threaten public health or national security.”
Ron Faucier’s work with H5N1 paved the way for these new programs designed to compartmentalize scientists around the world and keep biological weapons research going under the cover of “public health research”. The idea that our own government’s institutions are creating bioweapons may sound crazy at first, but just read their own words! Science Magazine released an article in November 2011 about the “heated debate”, in which Ron Faucier (the same scientist listed in the sources below) is quoted as saying:
…In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make”—and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it. Fouchier is also bracing for a media storm. After he talked to ScienceInsider yesterday, he had an appointment with an institutional press officer to chart a communication strategy.
“This work should never have been done.”
-Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute who has a strong interest in biosecurity issues….
Fouchier confirmed the details given in news stories in New Scientist and Scientific American about a September meeting in Malta where he first presented the study. Those stories describe how Fouchier initially tried to make the virus more transmissible by making specific changes to its genome, using a process called reverse genetics; when that failed, he passed the virus from one ferret to another multiple times, a low-tech and time-honored method of making a pathogen adapt to a new host…
“These studies are very important,” says biodefense and flu expert Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. The researchers “have the full support of the influenza community,” Osterholm says, because there are potential benefits for public health. For instance, the results show that those downplaying the risks of an H5N1 pandemic should think again, he says.
Basically, what Osterholm said was, “These studies are important because in order to stay in business, the people need to be scared out of their minds. So we create these highly-lethal viruses to scare the public so they’ll legitimize the need to create these highly-lethal viruses.”
No wonder the Chinese think we did it.
 Herfst S et al. Science. 336(6088):1534-1541 (22 June 2012); and Imai M et al. Nature 486: 420–428 (21 June 2012).
 Fouchier RA, et al. Nature. 481:443 (26 January 2012).
 Fouchier RA, et.al. Science. Vol. 335, no. 6067. (26 January 2012)
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