THREE Australian experts are making waves in the medical community with a report suggesting swine flu may have developed because of a lab error in making vaccines. "It could have happened in a lab where somebody became affected and then travelled with it," virologist Dr Adrian Gibbs said yesterday.
Conjuring up a vision of Frankenstein's fictional monster fleeing the laboratory, he added: "Things do get out of labs and this has to be explored. There needs to be more research done in this area.
"At the moment there is no way of distinguishing where swine flu has come from."
The research, published in the Virology Journal on Tuesday, was compiled by two former researchers at the Australian National University - Dr Gibbs and programmer John S. Armstrong.
Dr Jean Downie, once the head of HIV research at Westmead Hospital, was also involved.
The article claimed the swine-origin influenza A (H1N1) virus that appeared in Mexico in April has at least three parent genes which originated in the US, Europe and Asia.
"The three parents of the virus may have been assembled in one place by natural means, such as by migrating birds, however the consistent link with pig viruses suggests that human activity was involved," the research found.
Within two days of them publishing their findings there were more than 16,000 downloads of the article.
"What we wanted to do was instigate debate about this again because we still don't know the source of this virus," Dr Gibbs said.
The research suggested more tests be done on laboratories "which share and propagate a range of swine influenza viruses".
It said that if the virus was generated by laboratory activity it would explain why it had "escaped surveillance for over a decade".
Dr Gibbs said it was not the first time lab errors had been made, with evidence foot and mouth disease in England had been born out of a lab mistake and circumstantial evidence that Spanish influenza in 1918 and Asian influenza in 1957 reappeared decades later because of mistakes.
"Measures to restore confidence include establishing an international framework co-ordinating surveillance, research and commercial work with this virus and a registry of all influenza isolates held for research and vaccine production," the report concluded.