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The Man-Made H5N1 Controversy Heats Up: What Next? (Part Five)

Author: Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health
February 21, 2012


This is the fifth of a daily series of blog postings dwelling on issues surrounding the H5N1 controversy.

What should be done about the deadly man-made H5N1 flu strain made in the laboratory of Dutch scientist Ron Fouchier? And generally, what measures are appropriate to limit dangers from experiments that either make bird flu more virulent or increase its potential to spread from person-to-person? On February 16-17 the World Health Organization convened 21 scientists (mostly flu experts) and one ethicist to decide the fate of the H5N1 experiments, including whether further research should be allowed, and should the papers be published.

Yes, the group decided, on all counts: More research, publish the details in full, and let the deadly manmade H5N1 remain locked in university labs in Rotterdam and Madison, Wisconsin. But there was a big caveat: All work and publication will be on indefinite hiatus while efforts are made to "educate the public" in order to "lower anxieties" about bioterrorism, biosecurity, and general global safety. Scientists seem to be saying, "We know what is right, and safe. But we need to calm the public down and convince everybody to trust us."

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