[Ip-health] Killer flu doctors: US censorship is a danger to science

Riaz K Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Mon Jan 16 00:58:04 PST 2012

  Killer flu doctors: US censorship is a danger to science

      Dutch lab that created deadly bird flu virus attacks America for
      redacting its research.

Steve Connor <http://www.independent.co.uk/biography/steve-connor> 
Author Biography

Monday 16 January 2012 

America should not be allowed to dominate the debate over who controls 
sensitive scientific information that could be misused in biowarfare 
terrorism, say the scientists who created a highly dangerous form of 
bird-flu virus in a study that has been partially censored by the US 

Ron Fouchier and Ab Osterhaus of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam 
accept recommendations by the US government's National Science Advisory 
Board for Biosecurity, which said key details of their US-funded 
research should not be published because bioterrorists may use the 
information to cause a bird-flu pandemic.

*"But we do question whether it is appropriate to have one country 
dominate a discussion that has an impact on scientists and public-health 
officials worldwide," Fouchier and Osterhaus write in the journal Nature.*

"It is not clear whether an international discussion would lead to 
different recommendations ... We don't know the worldwide opinion until 
a group of experts from all parts of the globe is formed. An issue this 
big should not be decided by one country, but all of us," they say.

As The Independent reported in December, Dr Fouchier and colleagues 
created a strain of H5N1 bird-flu virus that can be spread by airborne 
transmission between laboratory ferrets, the standard animal "model" for 
human influenza. They did it to see how easy it would be for the virus 
to mutate into a form that could cause a pandemic.

Details of the genetic mutations could prove vital for scientists 
engaged in the early-warning surveillance of new strains of flu virus, 
as well as researchers involved in creating new vaccines and anti-viral 
drugs. But the details could be misused by rogue states or by biowarfare 
terrorists with access to rudimentary scientific knowledge and fairly 
standard laboratory equipment. Previously, it was thought the H5N1 
bird-flu virus, which appeared in birds in 1996, could only be 
transmitted to people by close contact with infected poultry, rather 
than by airborne transmission from one person to another.

If the H5N1 bird-flu strain mutated into an airborne form, it could 
result in one of the deadliest pandemics in history, where more than 
half of those infected die -- a mortality rate that would dwarf other 
flu outbreaks.

So far, most of the 600 or so deaths from H5N1 have resulted from close 
contact between people and poultry and have occurred almost exclusively 
in Asia and the Middle East where keeping domestic poultry is common. Dr 
Fouchier and Professor Osterhaus were among experts asked by Nature to 
give opinions on recommendations of the US National Science Advisory 
Board for Biosecurity, which wants key details of their study, such as 
the precise genetic sequence of the mutated virus, to be withheld from 

Lynn Klotz of the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in 
Washington and Ed Sylvester of Arizona State University say the chances 
of a laboratory strain of H5N1 escaping into the wild remain high if it 
is stored in conventional flu-virus labs. "Regulators should not be 
sitting idly by, while the threat of a man-made pandemic looms," the 
scientists say.

More information about the Ip-health mailing list