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Scientists Agree to Delay Controversial Bird Flu Research
Date:1/22/2012

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists agreed Friday to a 60-day moratorium on controversial research into a modified avian flu virus that has been shown to be more transmissible among mammals.

Although the investigators believe their research has a public health benefit, they acknowledge the fear of some governments and others that the genetically altered virus could escape from labs and infect people or fall into the hands of bioterrorists.

This fear has caused a highly unusual debate among governments and scientists over the benefits and risks of the research.

Some scientists and biosecurity experts worry that such a mutated virus could trigger a human pandemic that might rival the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918-1919 that killed an estimated 20 million to 40 million people worldwide.

In a letter appearing Jan. 20 in the journals Nature and Science, 38 researchers, including Yoshihiro Kawaoka from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Ron Fouchier, from Erasmus University in the Netherlands, explained that their research with ferrets has already shown that the virus can be genetically manipulated to make it easier to transmit among mammals. No research has been done with humans because it would be unethical.

"No experiments with live H5N1 or H5 HA reassortant viruses already shown to be transmissible in ferrets will be conducted during this time. We will continue to assess the transmissibility of H5N1 influenza viruses that emerge in nature and pose a continuing threat to human health," the scientists wrote.

Ferrets are useful research animals because they transmit viruses much the same way humans do.

The research is being temporarily stopped, the scientists said, because they need additional time to share with the scientific community the research's benefits to governments and public health organizations should the vir
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