Apparently, a couple of labs worked together to make a ‘bird flu’ a ‘mammal/people flu’, and somehow terrorists are going to use this information to kill everyone on planet earth, and this research must be stopped or kept a secret and buried at the bottom of the ocean in a lead box or something (thats why James Cameron went to the bottom of the ocean, right?).
Where to start– Okay, there are different kinds of influenza. Bird flu, swine flu, people flu– Part of what helps determine what flu goes with which organism is what kinds of sugars those organisms decorate their proteins with. As some of you might remember, that is one of the things that makes fighting HIV-1 so hard– it is coated in sugar. This is totally normal. Lots of the proteins your body makes and uses are covered in sugar. Birds like to decorate their proteins with one kind of sugar, and thats what bird flu likes, and people flus like the kind of sugar that people make. Bird flu doesnt want people sugar, and vice versa (of course, among other things that determine host specificity).
Thats not to say that accidents, a bird influenza infecting a human, cant happen. It does happen in places like regions of SE Asia (pdf) where people are basically living with their livestock. When humans are in super close proximity with, in this case, birds, humans can get infected with bird flu. But bird flu isnt real happy about the situation either. Its basically stuck in that human, and cannot go on to infect other humans. Think of what happens with rabies– it wants to infect a bat or dog, where it can be transmitted to another organism. it *can* infect humans, but its a dead-end for the virus.
It also happens that the same regions where bird–>human transmission of influenza is possible, they dont have access to quality medical care. I mean if you are living in a mud floor hut with your birds and pigs, you dont exactly have access to a billion dollar medical facility. Thus, over 50% of the humans who have been infected with bird flu have died. This may not have *anything* to do with the virus itself. There is currently no evidence this has anything to do with the virus itself. It is currently more logical to assume that the deaths have to do with a pretty vicious virus *combined* with heath conditions/deficiencies due to extreme poverty and no access to medical care (hell, it might be a genetic quirk of those living in SE Asia).
That being said, the virologic community is always on the look-out for the next epidemic. It would be stupid not to prepare, to some degree, for a bird flu gaining the ability to transmit human-to-human, and creating a big mess.
So a group of scientists cultured bird flu in ferrets (the small animal model for flu) and figured out a way (of many possible ways, no doubt) that bird flu could be spread from mammal to mammal.
If we know what a mammal transmissible bird-flu looks like (even if it is not the ‘answer’ that nature ultimately comes up with), and we can study how it behaves, then we can be prepared for when/if a mammal transmissible bird-flu decides to cause some trouble.
Apparently, this research meant that terrorists were going to make this mammal-transmissible virus in their basements and take over the US. Or something.
Soooo… According to the USs super smart, super scientiflical anti-terrorism club, or whatever, we shouldnt study a virus nature can (and most likely will) make, which will hurt/kill people…
… because terrorists *might* make this virus (instead of using any number of naturally occurring very deadly viruses) which *might* kill >50% of infected people (but probably wont in non-poverty/good health care parts of the world, which means the terrorist creators of the virus will be more likely to die than their ideal victims) at extraordinary expense and scientific study, instead of, like, I dunno, a bomb or hijacking a plane with box cutters (which they already have the capability of doing, and works just fine). And not publishing *this* research does not mean, in any way, shape, or form, that terrorists couldnt use the exact same protocol (which has been used for centuries) to generate a different variant of a mammal transmissible bird-flu (which we also wont be prepared for because we wont publish this research).
The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) ruled Prof Fouchier’s work, and that of Dr Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, posed no threat to public health or national security.
The issue provoked huge debate among the scientific community as to whether details of the research should be kept secret or released in full only to those working in the field of virology.
In the sense that there is also a huge debate among the scientific community as to whether the universe was created 6000 years ago or whether everyone born under Aries is an asshole.
Preeeeeetty sure Im not the only virologist pissed off about this idiotic censorship.
There had been widespread media reports that the virus, in its aerosol form, killed every ferret exposed to it.
Prof Fouchier said it did not kill any of them, and was lethal only when sprayed directly into the nose of the animals.
Dont snort cocaine, children. Terrorists might have laced it with influenza.
But the message is clear– If you want to publish something that the US government is too stupid to understand and wants to misconstrue as ‘terrorism’, they will censor your research. Even if you dont live or work or publish your journal in the US.
Land of the free, baby.