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U.S. Advisers Say It's Now Safe to Publish Bird Flu Studies
Date:3/31/2012

SATURDAY, March 31 (HealthDay News) -- Research on a mutated, more contagious form of the bird flu virus can be published in full, U.S. government biosecurity advisers said Friday, despite initial concerns that bioterrorists could use the information to start a pandemic.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity said two research papers, which have been revised since they were first offered for publication late last year, have been reworked enough so they no longer contain details that might be of value to bioterrorists. The advisers' recommendation now goes to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a decision, the Associated Press reported.

In December, the advisers recommended against publication of the papers because doing so was potentially risky.

The two studies at the center of the debate were to be published in the journals Science and Nature late last year. The papers, which were funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, describe how the virus could mutate relatively easily into a strain that could spread rapidly among humans. The research was done by scientists at the University of Wisconsin and in the Netherlands.

Although the bird flu virus, known as H5N1, rarely infects people, it appears to be highly lethal when it does. Of about 600 known cases, more than half have been fatal. If the virus were able to spread more easily from birds to humans, experts have estimated that millions of people could die after being infected.

Friday's recommendation could end a debate that involved scientists worldwide. Many contended that full publication of the two papers would help scientists monitor potentially dangerous mutations in bird flu viruses that circulate naturally. The papers could also help test vaccines and treatments for a mutated form of the bird flu, some scientists said, the AP reported.

In February, the World Health Organization ma
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