Scientists Return to Controversial Bird Flu Study

Laboratory examination of the violent H5N1 was suspended over contagion fears last year.

Scientists are returning to a study on a violent strain of bird flu, one year after scientists developed the type H5N1 virus in a laboratory and were shut down over fears of a worldwide epidemic.

According to two letters published in the prestigious journals Nature and Science, research on the highly pathogenic virus will start up again, under strict precautions that have been put into place to prevent the virulent flu strain from leaving the laboratories.

The letters were signed by 40 flu virus researchers at universities around the globe.

In March of 2012, two research teams from Holland and the United States, performing a study on ferrets, reported that it takes only five mutations for a deadly strain of flu to be transmitted among mammals via the air.

Prior to that, in October of 2011, the findings of the studies were sent for examination to the American National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, known as the NSABB, in advance of their publication. The members of the panel decided to ban parts of both the studies that could, they said, come into the hands of terror organizations seeking to develop biological weapons.

The decision aroused criticism in the scientific community. Critics said that extensive reporting of the studies' results could, in fact, give the medical establishment tools to better cope with the dangers inherent in flu viruses that travel from animals to humans. As a result, the critics said, it would be easier to develop immunizations.

In the wake of public pressure the NSABB agreed to the publication of the studies, but only after changes were introduced.

In the context of the American board’s stance against unrestricted publication of the studies, even before they came out, last January flu researchers around the world announced the temporary suspension of studies on the deadliness of the type H5N1 flu virus.