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Article Released Wed-26th-October-2005 18:49 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Bird flu set to hit Africa; Sex selection trial launched

The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus is expected to be carried by migrating birds into east Africa within weeks; US doctors have launched a clinical trial to assess the effects of allowing couples to choose the sex of their unborn children

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News: Bird flu set to hit Africa

The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus is expected to be carried by migrating birds
into east Africa within weeks. If it reaches the area, the health and
economic consequences of the disease could be even worse than in southeast
Asia - and could increase the risk of a worldwide pandemic, according to a
news story in Nature this week.

Rural communities around the lakes of the Rift Valley region in east Africa
depend heavily on poultry to survive, so the consequences if large numbers
of poultry succumb to the disease or have to be culled would be severe.
"Losing poultry would have a devastating effect on livelihoods in the area,"
says Lea Borkenhagen, sustainable-living development manager at the charity
Oxfam, UK.

People in the region also live in close contact with both domestic and
migratory birds, meaning that there would be a high risk of the virus
spreading to humans - increasing the chances that it might mutate and
trigger a worldwide pandemic. In contrast to southeast Asian countries
affected by the disease, most countries in east Africa have no system in
place to monitor birds or test for H5N1. Literacy and income levels are also
lower than in Asia, making it difficult for officials to spread warnings
about the disease. "The situation in Africa could be worse," a poultry
researcher from Addis Ababa, Ethopia, told Nature.

Contact for background information
Tom Simonite (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +44 20 7843 4524; E-mail: t.simonite@nature.com

Media contact
Ruth Francis, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail r.francis@nature.com


News: Sex selection trial launched

US doctors have launched a clinical trial to assess the effects of allowing
couples to choose the sex of their unborn children, according to a news
story in this week's Nature.

Doctors can use a technology called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)
to examine the sex of embryos that they create by assisted reproduction.
Couples then select male or female embryos to implant in the mother's
uterus.

But doing this for non-medical reasons is controversial, and is banned in
many countries including Britain and Canada, due to public concerns that it
would cause sex discrimination, or undermine that principle that parents
should love their children unconditionally.

It took researchers in Houston nine years to get permission to carry out
their trial, which began last month and will look at the babies' health as
well as social factors in the families as the children grow up. The doctors
have a waiting list of at least 50 couples, but they will only enrol those
who already have a child, and want to have a child of the opposite sex - an
approach referred to as 'family balancing'.

The United States has not regulated social sex selection, but two
professional societies have issued statements opposing it. The researchers
hope their study will persuade them, and countries that have banned the
practice, to revise their position. "Those statements are based on public
opinions, not outcomes," says the lead researcher. "Public opinion is
important, but it shouldn't be used to ban something."

Contact for background information
Erika Check (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +1 202 626 0692; +1 202 257 4310 E-mail: e.check@nature.com

Media contact
Ruth Francis, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail r.francis@nature.com

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Keywords associated to this article: bird flu; family balancing
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