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Scientists Granted Rights to Publish Bird Flu Study With Possible 'Pandemic' Implications


In April after months of discussion among World Health Organization officials and the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity, controversial research by Dutch scientists that developed a pathway for the bird flu virus to become infectious from human to human was approved for publication in scientific journals. Now, the Dutch government has given virologist Ron Fouchier an export license to publish his H5N1 study, according to Science Insider.

(Related: Pandemic possible? Scientist genetically modifies bird flu virus with scary results)

Fouchier from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam said the license is in his inbox and that "we can now move on" with the publishing of his revised manuscript.

In September 2011, Fouchier presented to some in the scientific community  that he developed a way for the virus, currently not transmissible from human to human, to mutate and become infectious with the potential for pandemic consequences. With that in mind, several biosecurity and flu experts have spoke out in favor and against publication of the research. It is considered "dual use" research and has some concerned it has the potential to be used against mankind as an act of biowarfare.

When Science Insider first reported on Fouchier's research, he said he expected "a media storm." He got one. In December 2011, some officials were calling for parts of the research to be censored from publication, so the full pathway of the mutation was not accessible. Others went as far as to say this virus should have never been created. Fouchier et al was cooperative during this time, putting publication of the research on hold as world governments discussed consequences, even as the scientific community was advocating for full publication. After the meeting of 22 scientists and security experts in Geneva, the World Health Organization recommended full publication of the study, but only after a full assessment of its risks are evalutated.

(Related: WHO: Bird flu study could be published in full after risks assessed)

In mid-April, the National Institute of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins confirmed the U.S. would allow for full publication of the study after the Department of Health and Human Services in December had asked the journals Science and Nature to omit some of the more controversial aspects of the research. Collins said in a statement, "After careful deliberation, the NSABB unanimously recommended the revised manuscript by Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka be communicated in full. The NSABB also recommended, in a 12-to-6 decision, that the data, methods, and conclusions presented in the revised manuscript by Dr. Ron Fouchier be communicated fully after a number of further scientific clarifications are made in the manuscript."

With Dutch regulators now giving Fouchier an export license -- something Science Insider reports Fourchier was opposed to applying for in the first place considering it "an inappropriate tool to control the flow of scientific information" -- the journals in which Fourchier wants to publish should now have the green light to move forward.

Still, Science Insider states Fourchier and his colleagues are not celebrating just yet. He said once the research is actually in print, "then we'll throw a party."

As of right now, according to the HHS, H5N1 is transmissible from infected birds to humans. In 2003, there are nearly 600 infections in 15 countries attributed to the bird flu. In 2011, there were 62 reported cases and 34 deaths in five countries.

[H/T Huffington Post]

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