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U.S. Panel May Re-Evaluate Bird Flu Research After Scientists Present New Data About Risks To Humans

Speaking at the American Society for Microbiology’s (ASM) Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Ron Fouchier, the leader of the team at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands that genetically altered the H5N1 bird flu virus, making it transmissible among ferrets and “touching off public fears of a pandemic, said … that the virus he created was neither as contagious nor as dangerous as people had been led to believe …, prompt[ing] the United States government to ask that the experiments be re-evaluated by a government advisory panel that recommended in December that certain details of the work be kept secret and not published,” the New York Times reports (Grady, 2/29).

According to the Associated Press/USA Today’s “Your Life” blog, Fouchier said that “contrary to public perceptions, the airborne bird flu didn’t kill the ferrets,” and that “publishing the research would help other scientists monitor the so-called H5N1 bird flu for similar mutations in the wild, and to test vaccines and treatments” (2/29). Also speaking at the event on Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), recommended that the data be examined again by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), once the manuscripts have been revised to “include new data and elicit clarifications of old data” presented to a meeting of experts convened by the WHO in February, Nature News Blog reports (Young, 2/29). The Los Angeles Times’ “Booster Shots” blog provides a link to video of the panel discussion on the ASM biodefense meeting website (Brown, 2/29).