Scientists: Time to Make Our Own Bird Flu

Call to study a strain perhaps more dangerous to humans
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2013 1:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – Concerns about the H7N9 bird flu virus are heating up, with a report this week detailing an apparent transmission of the disease between two people. Typically, humans are only infected by poultry, USA Today notes, but a study suggests a 60-year-old man who died after getting the disease gave it to his daughter, who was taking care of him. She also died, AFP reports; it appears to be the first human-to-human transmission of the illness. International scientists want to learn more about the virus—and to do so, they're hoping to create a potentially more transmissible version in the lab.

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A statement from 22 experts in Science magazine says the move "is necessary and should be done," noting that they'll employ stepped-up safety measures. "The risk of a pandemic caused by an avian influenza virus exists in nature." The proposal follows a 2011 furor over comparable experiments that saw scientists creating H5N1 strains transmissible between ferrets. Some experts fear similar creations could get outside the lab, or perhaps be intercepted by dangerous people, the Los Angeles Times reports. The US government says it will ensure special monitoring for any such projects. (Read more bird flu stories.)

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