Transparency needed on viruses


Scientists have managed to produce a mutated bird flu virus from which new vaccines could be developed. An American committee is opposing the publication of the research findings, however, fearing that they could be misused by bioterrorists, for example. Wemos is in favour of their publication.
The H5N1 virus is the pathogen responsible for what has been termed ‘bird flu’, named after its hosts. Over 300 people have succumbed to it worldwide. As Remco van de Pas, a health advocate at Wemos explains, “Humans who are infected with the H5N1 virus can become seriously ill and even die. It has been found in a few migratory birds in Europe, but there is no acute threat at present, although a mild variant of the virus was recently detected at a turkey farm in Limburg.”
Dutch and Japanese scientists have created a mutated H5N1 virus in order to ascertain whether bird flu can be transmitted among humans, so that preparations can be made to deal with an outbreak. They discovered that it only takes two small mutations to enable the virus to be transferred from one human to another, for example by coughing.
An American committee has argued that persons of evil intent could use the research data to develop a virus for use as a biological weapon. The body funding the research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, has therefore banned publication. But as Van de Pas points out, “Wemos considers that the data should be published. Countries have agreed under the auspices of the World Health Organization to share all data on viruses. It is in all our interests to uphold this agreement so that work can begin on developing a vaccine, for instance.”
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