NIH: OK to publish controversial bird flu studies
April 23rd, 2012
01:13 PM ET

NIH: OK to publish controversial bird flu studies

Two studies on the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus have been steeped in controversy because some experts view them as a threat to biosecurity. Now, the U.S. government is saying they should be published.

The papers suggest ways that manipulation of the virus could heighten its virulence and ability to be transmitted. 

"This line of research is critically important because it will help public health officials understand, detect, and defend against the emergence of H5N1 virus as a human threat, a development that could pose a pandemic scenario," according to a statement by Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health

The scientific saga has been unfolding since late last year. Research by Ron Fouchier, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, is at the center of the controversy. 

With just a few genetic tweaks to H5N1, Fouchier and colleagues were able to make the virus go airborne, infecting a population of ferrets with alarming speed, according to reports. 

After reviewing the data, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which advises the NIH and other federal agencies, voted 12-6 in favor of releasing Fouchier's research, with the caveat that "scientific clarifications" are made; and voted unanimously that research authored by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor of virology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, be released in its entirety.

The U.S. government previously advised that the research not be published in the journals Science and Nature. A committee at the World Health Organization said in February that the the papers should be published, but did not specify when.

"These particular manuscripts include the important finding that the H5N1 virus has greater potential than previously believed to gain the capacity to be transmitted among mammals," Collins said. "The manuscripts describe some of the genetic changes that appear to correlate with this potential."

H5N1 is a virus that has inspired major concern, due to high global death rates associated with it.  According to the latest data released by the World Health Organization, of the 602 cases reported to the agency, 355 people have died. 

Although some scientists question the veracity of the almost 60% mortality rate associated with H5N1, many agree that the virus poses a potentially huge threat to humans if it spreads.

The decision by the NSABB suggests that the value of the data outweighs any terrorism threat it may pose.

soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. Joshua

    I doubt a terrorist would develop such an indiscriminate weapon. It is as likely to kill the terrorists' people as somebody else's. It is a lot of trust, though to release this kind of data.

    April 23, 2012 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • YouareAMoron

      Yeah because no terrorist ever displayed a willingness to kill themselves in order to kill everybody else....

      April 23, 2012 at 15:32 | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      A virus is different than a bomb. A virus will mutate, and if it hits the right range of deadly but not fast, it can spread indefinitely.

      A bomb will kill now, and it may kill some of your own people, but it has finite potential. A virus is not so limited.

      That said, I was not in favor of spreading this information before vaccines could be produced for the lab created strains of virus. It is a subject of debate, even among scientists.

      April 23, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
    • George100

      The point is that the person would be so sick before they finish this work .... they could not continue....... It is very hard to predict what would spread and be lethal .... the science does not exist to create a virus that would spread, be lethal, and have no vaccine. This is pure and utter crazy talk from uneducated reporters.

      April 23, 2012 at 18:09 | Report abuse |
    • Mahna Mahna

      Especially since it would really only affect those without medical - aka, terrorists. This disease isn't a threat to the US since we have a system in place to prevent the spread (as long as people stop being so ignorant and take the shots which should be mandatory in the case of a pandemic).

      April 23, 2012 at 21:17 | Report abuse |
    • Anchorite

      Joshua's right. Only in airport thrillers do terrorists go with such a risky and difficult weapon. What we need to worry about is not the rare chance a terrorist would do this but the near certainty that eventually it will happen on its own. To fight that we need everyone to know as much as possible.

      April 24, 2012 at 09:55 | Report abuse |
  2. Ray

    If it's so deadly why do the guys in the picture only have on surgical masks???

    April 23, 2012 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • 4sanity

      Because the current bird flu IS NOT efficiently transmitted from birds to humans. But the studies in question point to the way the virus might mutate and evolve to gain this trait.

      April 23, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Because the virus thus far (outside of labs) doesn't have the ability to easily transmit to mammals, or between mammals. It isn't airborne, as far as we can tell (outside of labs).

      Thus, surgical masks are sufficient to block accidental contact with fluids from the dead birds they are cleaning up. If it were airborne, you would see more extensive protective apparel.

      April 23, 2012 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • Nicole

      who knows ray!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      April 23, 2012 at 19:56 | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      How do we even know if this picture has anything to do with the article? All you see are people in tyvek suits scraping up dead birds. Could just be a stock photo of cleanup after another problem.

      April 24, 2012 at 10:41 | Report abuse |
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    April 23, 2012 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Abegaile

      of depends what your looinkg for but trust me all the COD games are still played. I don't know about 2 or 3 but i still play WaW with around 20000 others while MW2 is around 80 to 100K people. As with every game its all about the individual, for me MW2 is better but Black Ops wager matches are a nice change of pace.

      September 11, 2012 at 14:03 | Report abuse |
    • Babllu

      Kelley Posted on Too Cute Crochet For Babies and Toddlers is the book. It's a good one small projects that you can cotlepme in a day or two (or three).The patterns are mostly cutesy hats for babes (a strawberry hat, an acorn hat, an elf hat with a beard chin strap).

      September 14, 2012 at 00:31 | Report abuse |
  4. Brian

    This is dumb. There are more efficient ways for those in the scientific community to share this research than in a publication available to every Joe Schmoe. Flat out idiotic.

    April 23, 2012 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      What's more efficient than dissemination via peer reviewed journal?

      April 23, 2012 at 16:20 | Report abuse |
    • BioHzrd420

      I hope you were being facetious, but you probably weren't. Peer-reviewed journals such as Science and Nature (which are the top of the biomedical list anyways) are THE WAY that scientists get the information out to other scientists. We read those like you read blogs on the internet. The taxpayers paid for it, therefore, it IS public information.

      April 23, 2012 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
    • conoclast

      And just what might these more-efficient means be, if not peer-reviewed scientific journals, hmm? In case you're wondering, 'peer review' means the published findings can be replicated and confirmed by other scientists.

      April 24, 2012 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
    • Anchorite

      Actually disseminating this to everyone is the only way, and the most efficient way, to reach all scientists. Do you think the NIH has the current address of every immunologist in every country on the planet and a regular mailing to reach them all once a month on schedule?

      April 24, 2012 at 09:58 | Report abuse |
  5. The Final Solution

    One of the quick solutions with respect to controlling global over-population is a pandemic. Here we go.

    April 23, 2012 at 16:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. yneemee

    We have too many humans anyway – the mad scientists already have THAT figured out as a form of population control but it will be easier to blame the "terrorists" when it is released on the public... maybe from some ferrets who are liberated.

    April 23, 2012 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Richard

    Like the Black Plague, bird flu pandemic will come out of China where lifestock sanitation is of a very low standard.

    April 23, 2012 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Penelope

      Bird Flu & Swine Flu ONLY came out when George Bush (Daddy was CIA Director) was in Office. ((Dirty Ops)). We've got nothing to Fear any more

      April 23, 2012 at 22:39 | Report abuse |
    • Penelope

      AIDS came out – coincidently, also – as we will remember, when George Bush Sr. was Vice President and he formerly ran the CIA and Black Ops Budgets

      April 23, 2012 at 22:43 | Report abuse |
  8. George100

    I think we need to hide science from the common people they can not handle the knowledge! Lets keep the information secret only available to the rich and powerful as well as the treatments only available to the rich and powerful! (sarcasm!!!!!!!!!) There is no need to publish information generated by the public's own money and the government needs to step in to sensor the information. OK ALL SARCASM ASIDE ... WHERE WILL THE LINES BE DRAWN? TOXIC CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL? Cyanide and mercury are used all the time should any publication using them now be restricted???

    April 23, 2012 at 17:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bilas

      hello! i am at the job at the moment tehferor i did not have the time to check out all of your article, but i do like the things i read and i will read more at your blog when i get back home.. Got a lot of things to complete at work :p do you happen to have a username at twitter? Regards, Flyg Stockholm Bromma

      May 24, 2012 at 11:23 | Report abuse |
  9. Gustavo

    I can see big pharmaceutical companies salivating over profits to be made, it would't surprise me if big pharma was one of the 12-6 votes. It's all about the money, how could this decision be otherwise explained?

    April 23, 2012 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      "it would't surprise me if big pharma was one of the 12-6 votes." – Uh...yeah, that'd be a pretty safe bet, assuming any of the 18 who voted were from pharmaceutical companies in the first place.

      April 23, 2012 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
  10. George100

    It is very hard to predict what would spread and be lethal .... the science does not exist to create a virus that would spread, be lethal, and have no vaccine. This is pure and utter crazy talk from uneducated reporters.

    April 23, 2012 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul

      Are you part of the weaponization program being run by universities under funding from the CIA and other groups? How do you KNOW it isn't already done? There are plenty of deadly virus that have no suitable vaccine. Only recently has a useful vaccine come out for ebola. Imagine weaponised ebola!

      April 24, 2012 at 10:46 | Report abuse |
  11. RB

    It isn't the terrorists I worry about. How about a researcher having a bad day. Maybe his wife just left him and took the kids. Maybe he is about to lose his job, or his house or has drug problems or mental issues or all or the above. Maybe he just thinks that there are way too many humans on the earth. This person, right now, potentially has more ability to kill people than a superpower with thousands of nuclear weapons. Just poke that needle thru his glove and call in sick next week. Maybe take a few airplane flights. Think about it.

    April 23, 2012 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • paganguy

      Make it into a movie. You will reap big bucks. Americans love horror flicks.

      April 24, 2012 at 00:49 | Report abuse |
  12. Daveinla.

    But how does racism factor in? If its a CNN story racism must be at the root of it.

    April 23, 2012 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Chuck D

    The H1N1 hoax is not funny. Millions were duped into taking the toxic flu vaccine which causes cancer within 30 yrs. Now the pharmaceutical companies are weaponizing bird flu so they can release the new strain on the public and claim it was an accident.

    April 23, 2012 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bob

      I see we are not wearing the tinfoil hat like we are suppose to Chuck. now get it on b4 orderly joe comes in again!

      April 23, 2012 at 21:39 | Report abuse |
    • bad2worse

      Good way to bring the population under control. Yes sir, that would do it

      April 23, 2012 at 22:00 | Report abuse |
    • Brad76

      They seem to believe the world is overpopulated, so committing genocide is a noble act. Wouldn't surprise me one bit.

      April 24, 2012 at 00:04 | Report abuse |
    • Anchorite

      You're in sane. H1N1 killed 46 people in my state alone, thousands nationwide. You're saying the government faked their deaths? You're sick.

      April 24, 2012 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
  14. Shamwowza

    One thing we learned from the Navy, is that the Influenza Vaccine "Flu Shot" not only seldom works... but all those that got it got sick afterwards, and all those that didn't get it did NOT get sick. Hmmmmm.

    April 23, 2012 at 22:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Shamwowza

    Navy's Flu Shot "supposedly" !!! protects against a couple strains of flu while there are Millions out there. They also give Yellow Fever to all those who definintely, positively, without a doubt do NOT need it cause they'll never, ever come in contact with it. (LESS than a 0.0000001% chance) IT is Mandatory...you get it against Your will.

    April 23, 2012 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
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      May 27, 2012 at 04:22 | Report abuse |
  16. Brad76

    WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU PUBLISH THAT KIND OF INFORMATION?! That is just asking for trouble!!! WOW....

    April 24, 2012 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • steve

      Because it is essential information to anyone studying how to protect ourselves against a virus that, by natural mutation, becomes capable spreading through this route. And the question is not whether that will happen but when will that happen.

      April 24, 2012 at 07:53 | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Or protection of the elites againse the weaponized versions being created all over the world!

      April 24, 2012 at 10:48 | Report abuse |
  17. cajuntide

    No matter what anyone says in here about who wont use this stuff to kill many. Rember there is always one nut out there willing to do this for any insane reasion.

    April 24, 2012 at 00:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarawut

      Another useless prceidtion. We are about to reach oil peak and the use of oil will go down quite quickly. By 2050 we will have almost no oil left. The real problem we be food shortage.

      September 11, 2012 at 13:18 | Report abuse |
  18. paganguy

    Man has never invented a weapon that wasn't used at least once. Think Hiroshima.

    April 24, 2012 at 00:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • airborn

      you have no way of knowing that, but thanks for posting your musings.

      April 24, 2012 at 10:02 | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      i dont like this map because for 2 reanoss 1.It requires you to buy landers to get the pack-a-puch wich only wastes your time and points.And b.the freakin monkeys

      September 14, 2012 at 01:47 | Report abuse |
  19. Daniel

    Enough with this crap! But at least this time they aren't trying to convince us there's a new flu strain that makes influenza tremble in fear.

    April 24, 2012 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. William1956

    Why should we try to prevent something that has not started yet, just don't let it start in the first place.

    April 24, 2012 at 07:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. joe schmoe

    I think it is pure vanity and research funds that this researcher wants his work published. Saying that an experiment like this being released publically will help NIH etc. why not just release the details directly to them. Just like a computer security exploit you contact the company first upon discovery and give them time to fix it before it is published all over. This is arrogant and irresponsible. Any government that has ill will towards us North Korea could effectively make a specialized bioweapon that they could prepare for ahead of time by issuing mandated vaccines but we wouldnt be prepared for it.

    April 24, 2012 at 09:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. joe schmoe

    and if I can think of that it doesn't mean I am the first or only person that has... This is scary times indeed... custom engineered bioweapons from viruses. Pre vaccinate your nation and then unleash the weapon on everyone else. worst part is no one would see it coming. It could be put in food, water, air, air duct systems in subways, hotels, etc. and by the time it was discovered it would be too late...

    April 24, 2012 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. JH

    They could stop this if they wanted to and then it wouldn't be an issue. watch this video about an anti microbial agent http://gallery.me.com/nationranch/100039

    April 24, 2012 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Ron

    Fact is we are statistically overdue for an influenza pandemic. Just give the field influenza virus time to try more genetic combinations in the pig duck human triad. It has the time and numbers to do it without humans helping it. These research papers may give us insight into how to lessen the blow to human life.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Robin Bray

    All human flu strains start in birds. Use the correct name H5N1 for this flu strain in your headlines or get out of the medical news reporting business CNN.

    April 24, 2012 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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    I'm going to do a couple bongs now;anyone care to join me?

    April 24, 2012 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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