Scientists Revive Bird Flu Research Amid Contagion Fear

But US funding not quite ready

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 24, 2013 4:01 AM CST

(Newser) – Bird flu experts decided to shut down their research last year over government concerns that samples could cause contagion outside the lab. Now, some 40 scientists—in countries which have set up research guidelines—are set to dive back into their investigations, they say. The US hasn't established its own rules yet, meaning researchers here will have to wait a little longer, the Los Angeles Times reports. A top infectious disease official says the US, the leading pocketbook behind flu research, will have a funding structure in place "within a relatively short period of time—I hope measured in weeks."

Researchers say we'd better hurry: The risk for mutation into a more contagious form "exists in nature already. Not doing the research is really putting us in danger." Just nine mutations would be enough to make the virus transmissible, and in flu terms, "nine is almost none," says a Wisconsin virologist. Others worry, however, that reporting experiments could give less-cautious scientists a "blueprint" for their own work. "If they go ahead and the virus escapes, it's done," says an expert. "You cannot contain influenza."

In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012, ducks walk around an area where a suspected outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus was reported, in Ha Nam province, Vietnam.
In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012, ducks walk around an area where a suspected outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus was reported, in Ha Nam province, Vietnam.   (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)
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