SATURDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- Research on a mutated,
more contagious form of the bird flu virus can be published in
full, U.S. government biosecurity advisers said Friday, despite
initial concerns that bioterrorists could use the information to
start a pandemic.
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity said two
research papers, which have been revised since they were first
offered for publication late last year, have been reworked enough
so they no longer contain details that might be of value to
bioterrorists. The advisers' recommendation now goes to the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services for a decision, the
Associated Press reported.
In December, the advisers recommended against publication of the
papers because doing so was potentially risky.
The two studies at the center of the debate were to be published
in the journals
Nature late last year. The papers, which were funded by the
U.S. National Institutes of Health, describe how the virus could
mutate relatively easily into a strain that could spread rapidly
among humans. The research was done by scientists at the University
of Wisconsin and in the Netherlands.
Although the bird flu virus, known as H5N1, rarely infects
people, it appears to be highly lethal when it does. Of about 600
known cases, more than half have been fatal. If the virus were able
to spread more easily from birds to humans, experts have estimated
that millions of people could die after being infected.
Friday's recommendation could end a debate that involved
scientists worldwide. Many contended that full publication of the
two papers would help scientists monitor potentially dangerous
mutations in bird flu viruses that circulate naturally. The papers
could also help test vaccines and treatments for a mutated form of
the bird flu, some scientists said, the
In February, the World Health Organization made a similar
recommendation to publish the studies after a special meeting of 22
bird flu experts in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting was convened
by the WHO to discuss the "urgent issues" that have swirled around
possible publication of the two bird flu studies since last
The New York Times reported.
Most of those at the Geneva meeting felt that any theoretical
terrorist risk was outweighed by the "real and present danger" of
similar flu virus mutations occurring naturally in the wild, and by
the need for the scientific community to share information that
could help identify exactly when the virus might be developing the
ability to spread more easily, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the
U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told
Times. Fauci represented the United States at the meeting.
The editors of both journals said they plan to publish the
papers in full at a future date.
For more on how the bird flu virus might be able to infect
humans, visit the
U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious