Researchers Want to Bring Bird Flu Virus to Hawaii

Dr. Duane Gubler
Dr. Duane Gubler

KAKAAKO (KHNL) -- Why would anyone choose to bring the bird flu virus to Hawaii? That's exactly what researchers at the University of Hawaii medical school would like to do.

Scientists say, as a popular tourist destination, Hawaii is highly vulnerable to the importation of the virus. So they want to bring in a sample of it, so they can learn more about this deadly infection.

But not everyone supports the move.

Researchers want to develop the capability to diagnose the bird flu virus here. With so many people from Asia traveling to our islands, they say it's critical that our state is able to accurately and quickly identify the virus.

"Time is everything," Dr. Duane Gubler, director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, said. "A few days, a week, can mean hundreds perhaps thousands of cases and deaths associated with a virus like this."

So far, there are 317 documented bird flu cases in 12 countries, resulting in 191 deaths.

The virus would arrive on Oahu in a vial, which would be packed in an unbreakable plastic container sitting in a specially-designed box. The virus would go straight into the school's high-containment lab.

"This is a laboratory that is built specifically for containment," Gubler said. "It has redundant air handling with HEPA filtration, so that there's really no way the virus can escape from the building."

But not everyone supports the idea of bringing the bird flu virus here.

"Why can't the global community, science community through World Health Organization, study it at its source, where it comes from?" Dr. Sol Naluai, concerned citizen, asked.

Naluai says, even with the safeguards, accidents can happen.

"If they're putting the grant funds, money, ahead of the people's lives, I think that's totally ridiculous," he said. "That's asinine."

Medical school officials say they already received approval from the state Board of Agriculture, and are waiting for modifications to the lab to be completed and for the permit to be issued.