News / Health

Bird Flu Studies, Halted Over Terrorism Fear, to Resume

A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012. A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
x
A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
Jessica Berman
An international group of scientists has lifted its year-long moratorium on studying the highly infectious H5N1 bird flu virus. Scientists said Wednesday the medical benefits of their research far outweigh the potential risk of public harm, but many of them might still have to wait for the United States to resume funding their controversial research.  
 
Japanese virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Tokyo told reporters he and 40 other signatories to a bird-flu research moratorium last year plan to resume their work to learn more about the H5N1 avian influenza virus, with the goal of preventing a potentially lethal human pandemic.
 
“Therefore the greater risk is not doing research that could help us be better equipped to deal with a pandemic," he said.
 
Public fears peaked a little over a year ago that highly pathogenic, mutated copies of the H5N1 virus could escape from research laboratories and sicken the public, or be stolen and weaponized by bio-terrorists, leading to a global public health emergency.  At the request of the U.S government, Kawaoka and researcher Ron Fourchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, agreed to temporarily halt their H5N1 research, and to limit publication of their findings to date.   
 
U.S. officials asked that key details of the scientists’ research on the transmissibility of mutant strains of the virus in ferrets be omitted in studies slated for publication in the journals Nature and Science, until the lab security risks and oversight measures could be further studied. 
 
After a year of investigating the safety of H5N1 research in several countries, and being satisfied that the research poses little or no public harm, the scientists say it’s time to move ahead with studies of H5N1. They want to identify viral mutations that could make the bird pathogen more easily transmissible to humans through sneezing or coughing, changes that would raise the danger of a deadly pandemic.
 
Already, says researcher Ron Fouchier, a number of viral mutations have been discovered in birds in Asia that could help public health officials keep an eye out for the emergence of H5N1 in the human population.
 
"We have now put these mutations in the context of a virus from Indonesia and Dr. Kawaoka has done in the context of a virus from Vietnam. But there are other genetic lineages of H5N1 in Egypt and China, for instance, that we would like to test whether these viruses will emerge," he said. 
 
Fouchier says the work will also help scientists develop vaccines against H5N1. Besides the Netherlands, he says, China is expected to begin further research with H5N1 in the next few weeks.
 
But many countries conducting viral research receive their funds from the United States. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says any request for H5N1 funding support will be subject to approval under guidelines for so-called dual use research, in which scientists must demonstrate their research could not be used for nefarious or harmful purposes.
 
“So even though they, quote, 'lifted the moratorium,' those who are funded by the U.S. government, by the N.I.H., will not proceed with these experiments until they get cleared through the criteria that I just mentioned to you," he said. 
 
Fauci says most countries conducting H5N1 funding get the lion’s share of their funding from the U.S. government, and grants are made based on the National Institutes of Health's determination that the scientific investigation is necessary.  
 
But Ron Fouchier of the Netherlands says many international scientists might be able to secure at least partial funding for renewed H5N1 research from the European Union. 

You May Like

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid