Studies on lethal avian flu should be printed: WHO

Kyodo

The World Health Organization recommended Friday that two reports on avian flu studies by Japanese and European researchers be fully published, even though the U.S. has asked two leading scientific journals not to print them, fearing terrorists might learn how to develop the lethal virus.

Representatives from the United States also backed the WHO recommendation. The WHO agreed it is necessary to enhance the system for controlling viruses so that researchers can share the results of such studies.

The move came after the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity in December called on the American journal Science and the British journal Nature to delete parts of the reports.

The two papers, one by the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo and the other by Erasmus MC, a medical institution in the Netherlands, contain the results of studies on how contagious the avian influenza virus could be in mammals, including humans, using a virus that was genetically modified from bird flu.

The board asked the journals not to print parts of the reports showing how to create an avian flu virus that can affect humans. Neither magazine has published any part of the reports yet.

The move has stirred controversy over whether antiviral research or terrorism prevention should take priority, and prompted a group of 39 scientists to suspend research for 60 days in protest.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Tokyo described the results of the latest WHO meeting as a “reasonable conclusion.”

The WHO also decided Friday to hold an international conference, possibly in June, on how to strike a balance between scientific research and antiterrorism steps.