World’s experts to hold emergency summit on fears over man-made lethal mutant bird flu

Thursday, February 16, 2012
By Paul Martin

H5N1 bird flu virus kills half of humans that contract it
Experts say to find treatments research must continue

By Damien Gayle
15th February 2012

Bird flu experts meet at the World Health Organisation this week to decide how to continue with genetic research that risks creating a catastrophic pandemic.

The urgent summit is an attempt to settle a row over the censoring of two studies which show how make a highly contagious mutant H5N1 bird flu virus.

Far deadlier than normal flu, H5N1 kills roughly half of humans that contract it, but so far the virus has been mainly restricted to poultry.

Experts warn that whatever the outcome of the meeting, censorship will not stop scientists getting the tools to create and release a pandemic H5N1 virus if they were intent on doing so.

‘It doesn’t matter how much you restrict scientists from doing good, bad people can still do bad things,’ said Wendy Barclay, an expert in flu virology at Imperial College London.

The WHO called the ‘closed door’ meeting, set to begin Friday in Geneva, to break a deadlock between scientists and U.S. biosecurity chiefs.

American officials want to censor the work of two research teams, one in the Netherlands and one in the U.S., who have found that just a small number of mutations would allow deadly H5N1 to spread between mammals like ordinary flu.

The United Nations health body has said it is ‘deeply concerned about the potential negative consequences’ if the findings were to make their way into the public domain.

On January 20, flu scientists from around the world declared a 60-day moratorium on any research involving H5N1 that could produce more contagious forms of the virus.

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