Killer flu virus threat 'over-hyped'
22 December 2011, 10:41
The Hague - A top Dutch scientist heading a team
which created a mutant killer flu virus on Wednesday said the threat to
global biosecurity is being overplayed, even if full research results
"The threat to bio-security is not as big as
everybody thinks," Ron Fouchier, whose team at the Rotterdam Erasmus
Medical Centre announced the mutant version in September, told AFP.
this virus is definitely not easy. You need highly-skilled people and a
very large team, as well as specialised facilities to do this type of
work," he said.
Two top scientific journals said on Tuesday they
were mulling whether to publish full details on how Dutch scientists
mutated the H5N1 flu virus in order for it to pass from one mammal to
Researchers genetically altered the bird flu strain in a
lab, making it airborne and likely to be contagious between humans for
the first time.
The research has sparked fears that a pandemic
causing millions of deaths could be triggered if it emerged in nature or
fell into hands of bio-terrorists or rogue countries.
government science and advisory committee urged the US journal Science
and the British journal Nature to withhold key details of Fouchier's
team's research, so that people seeking to harm the public would not be
able to manufacture the virus.
Fouchier, however, said his team
believed publishing the full findings, including a detailed description
of the mutated virus, how it becomes airborne and its migration
patterns, could help save lives in case of an outbreak.
are important details that we need to get out very quickly. This is
information that needs to be shared with countries where H5N1 viruses
cause outbreaks so that the countries can now be on the lookout if these
mutations arise," he said.
He said however his team would
respect a recommendation by the US National Science Advisory Board for
Biosecurity (NSABB) that the journals withhold key details on their
work, saying redrafts of their findings had been re-submitted for
approval before the board.
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza is
fatal in 60% of human cases but only 350 people have so far died from
the disease, largely because it cannot, yet, be transmitted between