Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bird Flu Research is Too Dangerous to Publish - For Now

As previously mentioned on this website (see links below), late last year researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, were able to create a mutated version of the H5N1 virus commonly known as "bird flu".  Of concern, the mutation facilitated the airborne human-to-human transmission of a pathogen that, to date, has had a mortality rate of 60%.   Then, when it was announced the teams were planning to disclose their findings and methods in Nature and Science magazines so others could easily duplicate their work, a firestorm of controversy followed focusing on the research's potential use for terrorism.

In an effort to address the dual issues of "right to publish" and potential use of bird flu research for terrorism, last week a meeting sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) was held in Geneva, Switzerland.  Findings of the meeting were released immediately:
"... consensus that delayed publication of the entire manuscripts would have more public health benefit than urgently partially publishing."
To learn more about the twists and turns associated with this situation, use the links below:

  • Reuters background piece on the meeting, click here,
  • Full WHO announcement per meeting findings, click here
  • Washington Post coverage of the WHO announcement, click here
  • LA Times piece on how the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) wants to be involved in future decisions on research publication, click here
  • Wisconsin State Journal article on lab security concerns at UW-Madison, click here  

Comment: Obviously, the themes of censorship and terrorism make this series of events a hot topic in the press.  There is, however, an underlying issue - the nation and world have failed to prepare for pandemic influenza by fully leveraging a technology that already exists: geospatial.  For more, see:

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