May 14, 2009 — -- An Australian researcher claims the swine flu, which has killed at least 64 people so far, might not be a mutation that occurred naturally but a man-made product of genetic experiments accidently leaked from a laboratory -- a theory the World Health Organization is taking very seriously.
Adrian Gibbs, a scientist on the team that was behind the development of Tamiflu, says in a report he is submitting today that swine flu might have been created using eggs to grow viruses and make new vaccines, and could have been accidently leaked to the general public.
"It might be some sort of simple error that's not being recognized," Gibbs said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Gibbs admitted there are other ways to explain swine flu's origin.
"One of the simplest explanations if that it's a laboratory escape, but there are lots of others," he said.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has reviewed Gibb's report but says there is no evidence to support his claims, a conclusion many experts found comforting.
"Technically it's plausible but not likely," Christopher Ohl, an associate professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a specialist in infectious diseases.
"In this case I'm not concerned that this virus represents anything other than a naturally occurring mixture of viruses happening in nature," concluded Dr. Julie Gerberding, an infectious disease expert and the former director of the CDC.
Regardless of the validity of Gibb's claims, he and several experts say that just bringing the idea of laboratory security to the public's attention is important.
"There are lives at risk," Gibbs said. "The sooner this idea gets out, the better."
In 2001, foot-and-mouth disease led to the slaughter of more than 6 million animals, all after a vial went missing from a research laboratory in the United Kingdom.
Since then, however, experts said lab security and regulations have been getting tighter and better.
"Laboratories have a lot of security from having this happen, and it's very unlikely," Ohl said of the new theory about swine flu's origin.