Avian Flu Research Sparks Controversy

The plan by Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands and colleagues in the United States and Hong Kong is to study how the H7N9 variant might become infectious person to person.

A plan by scientists in the Netherlands, the United States, and Hong Kong to conduct research about how mutating H7N9 avian flu could be spread person to person is causing some controversy, following the tumult in 2011 about similar proposed research by some of them with the H5N1 flu. Because of fear about terrorists possibly obtaining the laboratory-grown strain, that research was halted and a moratorium ensued. It was eventually lifted.

Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, involved in 2011, and colleagues in the United States and Hong Kong now plan to study the H7N9 flu.

Again, they are publishing their plan in the journals Science and Nature.

"To fully assess the potential risks associated with these novel viruses, there is a need for additional research,'' their letter stated. "As members of the influenza research community, we believe that the avian A(H7N9) virus outbreak requires focused fundamental and applied research conducted by responsible investigators with appropriate facilities and risk mitigation in place.''

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