Bird Flu Data Should Be Kept Under Wraps, Science Panel Says
Details of a genetically altered strain of the deadly avian flu virus are “a grave concern” to public safety and should be kept under wraps, a federal advisory board declared Tuesday.
In a letter released by the journals Science and Nature, the 23-member National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity said the data behind a new strain of the virus can be used to help prepare for a possible future outbreak. But the board recommended the researchers’ findings be published without “methods or details” that could be used by terrorists to produce a biological weapon.
“This is an unprecedented recommendation for work in the life sciences, and our analysis was conducted with careful consideration both of the potential benefits of publication and of the potential harm that could occur from such a precedent,” the panel wrote. “Our concern is that publishing these experiments in detail would provide information to some person, organization or government that would help them to develop similar mammal-adapted influenza A/H5N1 viruses for harmful purposes.”
The letter restates concerns first raised in December, after reports that scientists in Wisconsin and the Netherlands each created a strain of the influenza virus that is both highly lethal and easily transmitted between ferrets — the animals that most closely mimic the human response to the flu.