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Debate Over Publication Of Bird Flu Studies Continues In Journal Opinion Pieces

“An international debate over whether to censor new research on bird flu may soon prove academic, as other laboratories close in on similar findings showing how one of the most deadly viruses could mutate to be transmitted from one person to another,” Reuters reports. Last year, two teams of researchers reported study results “that showed how the H5N1 [bird flu] virus can be transmitted through airborne droplets between ferrets, a model for studying influenza in humans,” and the findings prompted the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in December to advise “two leading journals, Nature and Science, to withhold details of the research for fear it could be used by bioterrorists,” the news service writes.

In an opinion piece published in Science on Thursday, Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, lead researcher of one of two teams, wrote releasing information on the studies would help public health officials prepare for an outbreak scenario and “emphasized that other researchers are close to the same findings, some of them inadvertently, and should be warned in advance how the virus could become airborne” (Begley, 1/19). In another Science opinion piece, “[i]nfectious disease experts Michael T. Osterholm (who is a member of the [NSABB]) and Donald A. Henderson … wrote that releasing the research details ‘poses far more risk than any good that might occur,'” according to the Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog (Brown, 1/19). Altogether, Science “published two papers arguing for censorship of the studies and two arguing that release of the information could help public health agencies plan for a possible pandemic,” Reuters notes (1/19). “Nature published a set of brief responses to the decision earlier this week,” “Booster Shots” reports (1/19).