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U.S. Advisers Explain Request to Censor Bird Flu Research
Date:1/31/2012

By Margaret Farley Steele and Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Concerns that research into a genetically mutated form of bird flu could escape from labs or fall into the hands of bioterrorists led U.S. scientific advisers to ask two prominent journals to withhold key details of the groundbreaking research, the advisers explained Tuesday.

So far, so-called H5N1 bird -- or avian -- flu strains have rarely been transmitted from birds to humans since it was first identified in Asia in 1997. But the genetically modified virus created by scientists in the United States and Holland has been shown to be more transmissible in animal experiments, and the fear is that it could also be highly contagious among people, potentially setting the stage for a deadly pandemic.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) acknowledged on Tuesday that research into the potential threat of the modified H5N1 bird flu strain "could lead to greater preparedness and potential development of novel strategies for disease control," particularly if the virus were to mutate naturally.

But, releasing the complete research and results of two scientific papers in full in the journals Nature and Science could expose the United States and other nations to harm, the NSABB said, explaining its request to withhold some data from the public.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Erasmus University in the Netherlands were able to genetically alter the H5N1 bird flu virus, making it far more transmissible among ferrets, which are often used as research animals because they transmit viruses much the same way humans do.

The NSABB's main concern about the research "is that publishing these experiments in detail would provide information that could help some person, organization or government to develop similar mammal-adapted influenza A/H5N1 viruses for
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