Erasmus University again – Scientist agrees not to publish how to create a virulent bird flu virus strain

Ron Fouchier

After the recent sacking of Professor Don Poldermans for misconduct,  Erasmus Medical Centre is in the news again. This time it is the work of virologist Ron Fouchier with the bird flu virus which is attracting attention:

Dutch Scientist Agrees to Omit Published Details of Highly Contagious Bird Flu Findings

The virologist who created a potentially dangerous, mutant strain of the deadly bird flu virus has agreed to omit methodology details from his published reports on the new strain. The decision came after the U.S. government warned Tuesday that published details of the experiment could be used to create a biological warfare weapon.

Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, said he created the contagious form of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain “easily” by mutating a few genes within the strain. Officials feared the virus could kill millions if it were unleashed.

The study results were to be published in the U.S. journal Science, but in an unprecedented move, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an independent committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, recommended against full publication after it determined the risks outweighed the benefit.

The study results were to be published in the U.S. journal Science, but in an unprecedented move, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an independent committee that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, recommended against full publication after it determined the risks outweighed the benefit. …

But it does seem that the alarmist -and sensational – view is a little over-done.

Ron Fouchier himself believes the risk is being over-hyped:

Killer flu virus threat over-hyped: Dutch scientist

A top Dutch scientist heading a team which created a mutant killer flu virus Wednesday said the threat to global biosecurity is being overplayed, even if full research results are published.

“The threat to bio-security is not as big as everybody thinks,” Ron Fouchier, whose team at the Rotterdam Erasmus Medical Centre announced the mutant version in September, told AFP.

“Recreating this virus is definitely not easy. You need highly-skilled people and a very large team, as well as specialised facilities to do this type of work,” he said.

…. 

A US government science and advisory committee urged the US journal Science and the British journal Nature to withhold key details of Fouchier’s team’s research, so that people seeking to harm the public would not be able to manufacture the virus.

Fouchier however said his team believed publishing the full findings, including a detailed description of the mutated virus, how it becomes airborne and its migration patterns, could help save lives in case of an outbreak.

“These are important details that we need to get out very quickly. This is information that needs to be shared with countries where H5N1 viruses cause outbreaks so that the countries can now be on the lookout if these mutations arise,” he said.

He said however his team would respect a recommendation by the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) that the journals withhold key details on their work, saying redrafts of their findings had been re-submitted for approval before the board.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza is fatal in 60 percent of human cases but only 350 people have so far died from the disease, largely because it cannot, yet, be transmitted between humans.

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