WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- An international moratorium on bird flu research, instituted a year ago by researchers because of concerns that a mutated form of the virus could fall into the wrong hands, has been lifted.
In a letter published Jan. 23 in the journals Nature and Science, the 40 scientists who first agreed to halt any study of the H5N1 flu virus until safety guidelines were established now say that labs in countries that have since established such measures can resume their work.
However, the United States is not one of those countries, so any bird, or avian, flu research there is still on hold, the group said.
"It is believed that all of the conditions the moratorium was initially installed to meet have been met," Ron Fouchier, of the department of virology at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, said during a Wednesday news conference on the decision to lift the ban. "In our opinion, in those countries where research can be done safely, research should restart.
"The risk of this information in the manuscripts being misused by malicious people would be very, very small, if not negligible," Fouchier added.
Fouchier said his lab would not be restarting experiments immediately, but that "certainly it will not take months to start. Probably in the next few weeks."
Ending the moratorium is necessary for public health reasons, those scientists who signed the letter stated.
"We believe this research is important to pandemic preparedness," said Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Our research to understand how avian viruses adapt to mammals will lead to better surveillance and vaccines... The greater risk is not doing research that could help us to be better equipped to deal with a pandemic."
The furor started in December 2011, when concerns that research into a genetically mutated for
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