News / Health

    Terrorism Fears Prompt Call for Restrictions on Publishing Virus Research

    An Indonesian man helps  health officials cull poultry in the village where a 14-year-old boy died of bird flu Thursday Jan. 11, 2007.
    An Indonesian man helps health officials cull poultry in the village where a 14-year-old boy died of bird flu Thursday Jan. 11, 2007.
    Vidushi Sinha

    The U.S. government has asked two scientific journals not to publish key details of a federally-funded experiment that created new, more infectious strains of a deadly bird flu virus.  Government biosecurity advisers have raised concerns that some of this information could be used by terrorists. The scientific community is debating how to balance the free flow of research data with national security.

    H5N1 is the name of a bird flu virus that's commonly found infecting poultry flocks in Southeast Asia, but one that has rarely infected humans. But when it has, the bird flu has proved to be a highly infectious and potent disease, that is fatal 60 percent of the time.

    But in a unique biomedical experiment, scientists at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, engineered a strain of H5N1 that spreads more easily between mammals than the original strain - which means that some variants can also be more contagious to humans.

    It was this possibility that concerned the government's biosecurity advisers.

    The U.S.-based journal Science and the British journal Nature were asked by the government not to publish certain details of the experiment's methodology because that data could be used by terrorists to create a biological weapon.

    The research was funded by the U.S. government. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says the research was funded because the virus is a legitimate public health concern.

    But Dr. Fauci believes the government also has a responsibility to oversee the results of such experiments.

    “You have to strike a delicate balance between making information available for those who have a need to know for the good of public health, as well as not making it so freely available that anyone - even people without a legitimate need to know - can have access to it,” Fauici said.

    The editor in chief of the journal Science, Dr. Bruce Alberts, says this is an important moment in the history of scientific publishing. He says this research and how Science and the British journal Nature decide to publish it will set a precedent for future publications.

    It is likely, Dr. Alberts says, that given the prevailing threat of terrorism, barriers to free access to scientific data will recur in the future.

    “We will publish the version that is appropriate but missing some key information. We have been delaying publishing - we are working with our authors to make sure that at the time of publication we could also announce a mechanism - that will ensure scientists anywhere with a need to know - they will have appropriate opportunity to get the information that they might need,” Alberts said.

    The H5N1 study goes on to show that it is much easier to evolve this virus into a state where it can be transmitted through the air by coughing or sneezing, which could lead to a severe pandemic.

    Dr. Alberts says that is why the U.S. government funded the research in the first place. Scientists want to understand the virus in its deadliest form so that they can start working on drugs and vaccines against H5N1, to prevent a worldwide pandemic.

    But critics say the limits placed on the publication of the research raise legitimate concerns about who should have access to that knowledge.  Paul Roepe, Co-Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases, says viruses always mutate.  Sooner or later, he believes, virologists all over the world would be able to figure out the H5N1 mutation.

    “Not as fast as these folk have done it, but that doesn’t mean that people in other laboratories -- even laboratories in countries that ...are not terribly friendly...will not able to do this,” Roepe said.

    The controversy over the new strains of the H5N1 virus -- which are being stored in secure labs in the U.S. and Europe -- has also raised concern about the possibility that the new virus might escape, or be stolen, prompting calls for more secure research facilities.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora