Thursday, December 22, 2011

More on flu research and its dissemination

The H5N1 flu virus has been seen in epidemics in birds in Asia, with about 600 human cases in people coming into close contact with birds; half the people who came down with the disease died, but there has been limited if any transmission from person to person.

It is reported that researchers have made changes to the virus that allow it to be transmitted through the air from ferret to ferret, animals that are a usually reliable model for human to human transmission. It is also reported that
the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) has asked Science and Nature to publish only limited information about the methodology and findings of new research regarding transmission of the H5N1 influenza virus.
Understanding of changes in the virus that allow such human to human transmission should be available to public health officials so that they can see if the bird flu is becoming more of a threat to people. On the other hand, one would not want those who might make bio-weapons based on the H5N1 flu virus to easily learn how the virus might be mutated for their purposes.

I think the normal means for restricting the publication of results of research done in the United States is simply to classify it, as the results of the research leading to the atomic and hydrogen bombs was classified. Information relevant to biological weapons could be so classified, but this research was done in Europe. Of course, classified information can be and often is shared with people "with need to know".

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