Bird Flu Study Shut Down Over Terrorism Fears

Scientists have already determined that it could go airborne
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2012 2:20 PM CST
In this photo taken Nov. 24, 2011, a worker inspects labels on vials containing H5N1 flu vaccine during production at the Beijing-based drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd.   (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
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(Newser) – Researchers have temporarily shut down their investigations into a new, potentially devastating form of bird flu, giving in to widespread fear that terrorists might get their hands on the mutated virus. The researchers at Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands have already determined that the strain, dubbed H5N1, is transmissible through the air between ferrets, which are considered good stand-ins for humans in flu transmission studies, Reuters reports.

But a US advisory committee last month asked the journals Science and Nature to censor parts of the research. Biosecurity experts say that if an airborne strain of H5N1 ever got loose, it could kill between 20 million and 40 million people. The researchers say their work is vital to prepare for such a thing, but published a letter in the journals today saying they have nonetheless "agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days" to give scientists time to assess whether the research is safe. (Read more H5N1 stories.)

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