Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Microbiologists agree to censor bird flu research

In a radical departure from long-established scientific research methods, microbiologists in Europe and the U.S. have agreed to suppress information about their research into weaponizing the deadly H5N1 influenza strain known as “bird flu.”

Scientific research is capped with publishing positive findings so other researchers may replicate the findings.

Dutch scientists were able to pass the virus between ferrets in an aerosol application. The laboratory conditions could easily be adapted to a natural setting.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which was created in the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks and advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requested that the information be released to other researchers only after they have signed an agreement to keep the findings confidential. The panel called for certain data to be kept secret after determining that the risks of publishing it outweigh the benefits, according to a press release issued by the Erasmus Medical Center.

“The researchers have reservations about this recommendation but will observe it,” the center said in the statement. The research data may be shared with the scientific community, subject to an obligation of confidentiality, it said.
The Dutch scientists, led by Ron Fouchier, passed the H5N1 strain between ferrets in a chain of transmission that enabled the virus to evolve and become better adapted to its mammalian hosts.

“We have discovered that this is indeed possible, and more easily than previously thought,” Fouchier said in a Nov. 27 press release. “In the laboratory, it was possible to change H5N1 into an aerosol transmissible virus that can easily be rapidly spread through the air. This process could also take place in a natural setting.”

An American scientist working at the University of Wisconsin has made a similar agreement with the government.

Avian flu is a serious public health concern with the potential to cause a deadly pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Since 2003, more than 500 people have been infected with the H5N1 strain and about 60 percent have died, according to the Atlanta-based agency.

Millions of birds, most of them raised for poultry, have perished in Asia, the bird disease spreading to Russia over the past years.

An influenza pandemic swept the globe in 1918, killing as many as 50 million people. Many historians have written the opinion that the deadly epidemic led to the armistice that ended World War One because, quite literally, there were few soldiers left alive to fight their enemies.

Epidemiologists traced the spread of the deadly flu virus of 1918 to a U.S. Army camp in the midwest where infected soldiers debarked for Europe through the ports of Philadelphia and Boston.

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