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Bird Flu (cont.)

Bird Flu Research Controversy

Most articles do not have this section but it is included to give the reader some insight into the problems and dangers of biologic research that may affect their lives. In 2011, at least two major research laboratories (in the U.S. and the Netherlands), while trying to predict what genetic changes needed to occur in avian flu to make the virus easily transmissible to humans, developed a highly lethal bird flu virus strain that was easily transmissible to ferrets. Unfortunately, for humans, this lab strain could be transmissible to humans by "mistake" since spontaneous transfer of the swine flu (H1N1) has been documented to occur between humans and ferrets in nature (pet ferrets caught H1N1 from humans).

Although this lab strain gives researchers a fine model to study viral genetics and viral transmission, many researchers, clinicians, biowarfare experts, and many others consider such work to be highly dangerous because of the potential, however slight, for the virus to escape the lab by "mistake," or even worse, that terrorists could use the published data to create a biological weapon. Consequently, publication of the data about this potentially lethal strain has been delayed until there is some agreement in the worldwide scientific community about how to proceed. This delay is not only for publication but extends to further research work on the viral genome.

The work on person-to-person transmission genetics is another major area of concern. An expert panel composed of WHO consultants decided in 2012 that the data should be published. How the research will progress reamains unclear. What can be done with H1N1 viruses is possible to do with bird flu viruses, and such modifications of H5N1 or H7N9 bird flu could have devastating human consequences if no vaccine becomes readily available.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/31/2015

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