Scientists to Resume Work With Lab-Bred Bird Flu
International scientists who last year halted controversial research with the deadly bird flu say they are resuming their work as countries adopt new rules to ensure safety.
The outcry erupted when two labs - in the Netherlands and the U.S. - reported they had created easier-to-spread versions of bird flu. Amid fierce debate about the oversight of such research and whether it might aid terrorists, those scientists voluntarily halted further work last January - and more than three dozen of the world’s leading flu researchers signed on as well.
On Wednesday, those scientists announced they were ending their moratorium because their pause in study worked: It gave the U.S. government and other world health authorities time to determine how they would oversee high-stakes research involving dangerous germs.
A number of countries already have issued new rules. The U.S. is finalizing its own research guidelines, a process that Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said should be completed within several weeks.
In letters published in the journals Science and Nature this week, scientists wrote that those who meet their country’s requirements have a responsibility to resume studying how the deadly bird flu might mutate to become a bigger threat to people - maybe even the next pandemic. So far, the so-called H5N1 virus mostly spreads among poultry and other birds and rarely infects people.
"The risk exists in nature already. Not doing the research is really putting us in danger," said Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He and Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands separately created the new virus strains that could spread through the air.