Lab-engineered H5N1 not fatal, lead scientist says

Yoshihiro Kawaoka

According to the lead scientist of the lab-engineered airborne strain of avian flu in Wisconsin, the strain is not lethal and can be defeated with existing medicines.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor of virology at the University of Wisconsin, said that while the mutated virus was contagious among ferrets in the lab, it did not kill any of them. In a commentary published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, Kawaoka said that more research is needed urgently on transmissible bird-flu strains, Bloomberg reports.

“(There is an urgent need) to expand development, production and distribution (of bird-flu vaccines) and to stockpile antiviral compounds,” Kawaoka said, according to Bloomberg. “(Censoring the findings) will make it harder for legitimate scientists to get this information while failing to provide a barrier to those who would do harm.”

Kawaoka was among the scientists who ceased their experiments for 60 days in response to the widespread media fear that the virus could escape from labs and infect humans. The research team in Wisconsin agreed to not publish certain details of their research after being requested to do so by a U.S. biosecurity panel.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended that the studies done by Kawaoka’s group and a Dutch team led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center not be published in full. The panel determined the risks of publishing the complete research would outweigh the benefits.

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