Scientists have agreed to a sixty day voluntary pause in their research into the transmissibility of avian influenza, commonly called bird flu.


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In a letter published jointly [pdf] in Science and Nature today, the researchers who have discovered how to easily transmit avian influenza — commonly called bird flu — have agreed to a sixty day voluntary pause in their research.

Despite the positive public health benefits these studies sought to provide, a perceived fear that the ferret-transmissible H5 HA viruses may escape from the laboratories has generated intense public debate in the media on the benefits and potential harm of this type of research. We would like to assure the public that these experiments have been conducted with appropriate regulatory oversight in secure containment facilities by highly trained and responsible personnel to minimize any risk of accidental release. Whether the ferret-adapted influenza viruses have the ability to transmit from human to human cannot be tested. We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks. We propose to do so in an international forum in which the scientific community comes together to discuss and debate these issues. We realize that organizations and governments around the world need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that stem from the work. To provide time for these discussions, we have agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses leading to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals. In addition, no experiments with live H5N1 or H5 HA reassortant viruses already shown to be transmissible in ferrets will be conducted during this time.

The situation is difficult. This research is important as it helps scientists understand how flu is transmitted. At the same time, this research is very dangerous, as it could be used by evil people to kill millions.

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One comment

  • Steven D. Stein

    Yet another thing that can/should be conducted in space. Maybe in a Bigelow module? On the moon? You can fool with all kinds of dangerous things and keep them nicely contained in case of a screw up.

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