Have Scientists Thoroughly Addressed Avian Flu Research Concerns?

Noting that researchers recently lifted a nearly yearlong moratorium on H5N1 avian influenza research, put in place “because of safety and terrorism concerns,” a New York Times editorial states, “We wish we could be as sanguine as they are that all the earlier concerns have been dealt with.” The editorial continues, “Critics of the research had focused initially on whether terrorists might steal the virus or use the publications as a blueprint to make their own lethal strain. Later the emphasis shifted to safety — the risk that the virus might escape from a laboratory or that inept imitators might unwittingly unleash an epidemic.”

“The researchers claim that the benefits of the research — greater understanding of how flu viruses adapt to mammals and advance warning as to whether bird flu is close to becoming transmissible through the air — outweigh what they consider small risks in such experiments,” the editorial states. However, the New York Times notes “an editorial in Nature observed, ‘an independent risk-benefit analysis’ of such research ‘is still lacking.'” The Times concludes, “The [Nature] editorial warned, wisely, ‘The potential risks of the work demand exceptional precautions in any future research'” (1/26).