Saturday, December 7

‘More labs close to H5N1 mutations’

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NEW YORK: An international debate over whether to censor new research on bird flu may soon prove academic, as other laboratories close in on similar findings showing how one of the most deadly viruses could mutate to be transmitted from one person to another.

Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands is pushing for openness.

He is the lead researcher on one of the studies that showed how the H5N1 virus can be transmitted through airborne droplets between ferrets, a model for studying influenza in humans.

In December a US advisory board asked two leading journals, Nature and Science, to withhold details of the research for fear it could be used by bioterrorists.

Bird flu is already one of the most deadly, though it can only be acquired through contact with infected birds.

The potential for it to pass between people, through sneezes and coughs, sparks fears of a global pandemic worse than the 1918-19 Spanish flu outbreak that killed an estimated 20 million to 40 million people.

In an opinion piece published in Science on Thursday, Fouchier argued for the release the research to help public health officials better prepare for a scenario where the virus could mutate and become more deadly, spreading from person to person via coughs and sneezes.

He emphasized that other researchers are close to the same findings, some of them inadvertently, and should be warned in advance how the virus could become airborne. – Reuters