So far, the so-called avian flu strains have rarely been transmitted from birds to humans. But the genetically modified virus that was created by scientists in the United States and Holland has been more transmissible in animal experiments, potentially setting the stage for a deadly pandemic among humans.
Last April, the U.S. government gave the go-ahead for publication of two controversial studies, led by Kawaoka and Fouchier.
The research revealed that as few as five mutations are enough to make the H5N1 avian flu virus transmissible via airborne droplets between ferrets, considered one of the best animal models to study flu and its impact on humans.
In countries where research will resume, some of the tighter standards will include strict bio-safety guidelines for the laboratories where such research is conducted. Scientists have also signed documents affirming that they will not share the mutated virus with other parties without permission of the funder.
In addition to the Netherlands, Canada is poised to start research again, although discussions are still under way in Japan, Kawaoka said.
Kawaoka said he did not know when research might begin again in the United States.
"The U.S. has been unclear in how long it would take," Fouchier added. "If the U.S. would have said at the National Institutes of Health meeting in November of last year that it would take another three months, we probably would have waited. But we did not get that answer."
"It may take one, two, three years," he continued. "Many countries do this research. Should all countries really wait for the U.S., and why?"
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseas
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