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Fear over Controversial Flu Studies

22 December 2011, at 1:33am

GENERAL - A debate is ongoing as to whether two controversial bird flu studies should be made public, according to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The research by Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Ron Fouchier and their teams set out to answer a question that has long puzzled scientists: Does H5N1, which rarely causes human disease, have the potential to trigger a pandemic?

Mr Fouchiars study looks at a strain of the H5N1 avian influenza virus that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu.

Scientists believe it is likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths.

Both studies have been submitted for publication, and both are currently under review by the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which on a few previous occasions has been asked by scientists or journals to review papers that caused worries.

Earlier this week, NSABB announced that they will recommend the US Department of Health and Human Services to ask the authors to make changes in the manuscripts.

Due to the importance of the findings to the public health and research communities, the NSABB recommendeds that the general conclusions highlighting the novel outcome be published, but that the manuscripts not include the methodological and other details that could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm.

Further Reading

- You can visit the Avian Flu page by clicking here.