Special Biosafety Notification: Experimental Studies that May Increase the Risk of a Pathogen

January 23, 2012

In the past few months, research laboratories have undertaken studies to generate H5N1 viruses capable of efficient transmission in ferrets, including via aerosols. This type of research draws attention to the potential for creating organisms with novel properties and that affect pathogen risk. A biosafety advisory specific to efficiently transmissible engineered influenza A H5N1 viruses has been developed and is available on our website.

It is important for researchers to recognize the risk inherent to their activities and to take appropriate steps to mitigate that risk. Although the risk group and containment requirements may have been determined for a particular pathogen, modifications to the pathogen that increase risk may result in changes to the containment requirements. Factors affecting the risks posed by a pathogen include:

  • transmissibility (e.g. increased spread by aerosols);
  • pathogenicity/virulence (e.g. more severe health effects);
  • resistance to preventative measures or therapeutic treatments;
  • survival in the environment or outside the host;
  • resistance to disinfectants and decontaminants; and
  • host range (e.g. change in host range to include humans).

Experiments that increase the risks posed by a pathogen impact both the researcher and the public. For example, modifying a pathogen to become airborne would increase the risks inherent in certain laboratory procedures that generate aerosols, as well as the impact on public health if released from the laboratory. There are many resources available for conducting a local risk assessment on the safety/ security issues surrounding these types of experiments, most importantly the Biosafety Officer (BSO) or Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) that may be present at your facility. Resources can also be found at:

When experimental manipulations of a pathogen result in the creation of a higher risk pathogen, or are likely to increase the risk of a pathogen, it is a requirement that the Public Health Agency of Canada Pathogen Regulation Directorate and/or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Office of Biohazard Containment and Safety be notified for human and animal pathogen work, respectively.

Please note that this advisory is based on current information about the factors that affect pathogen risk and is subject to change as new information becomes available. Further biosafety information may be obtained from the PHAC Pathogen Regulation Directorate, on our website or at (613) 957-1779, fax (613) 941-0596 and by email: biosafety_biosecurity@phac-aspc.gc.ca.

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