H5N1 studies to be released this summer

The top influenza official at the World Health Organization hopes that two controversial H5N1 influenza studies will be released by this summer, ending the current publishing limbo of the controversial studies.

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment, said that the currently unscheduled meeting will take place regardless of whether or not the papers have been published, the Canadian Press reports.

"The timing of the second meeting is not predicated on the moratorium being ended or the papers being out," Fukuda said, according to the Canadian Press. "But we would like to move as quickly as possible."

The moratorium was a promise made by the leading influenza scientists of the world not to conduct further study into the transmission of H5N1 avian flu viruses among mammals. While the pause was originally scheduled for 60 days, expiring in late March, there is no fixed date for the research moratorium to end.

Fukuda said that the agency is trying to determine what topics should be discussed at the summer meeting. He does not expect the meeting to address whether or not researchers should continue to try to ascertain why H5N1 doesn't currently spread among humans and what changes the virus would have to endure to acquire the ability.

"If you ask the question 'Should we continue to try to understand the basis of transmissibility of these viruses,' then I think the answer is a clear 'Yes,'" Fukada said, according to the Canadian Press. "In the same way that if you were to say 'Do Fukuda we need to understand what makes these viruses so peculiarly dangerous and lethal,' the answer would be 'Yes.'"

Fukuda said that the important issue is to figure out how to do the work while taking full account of safety concerns.

"The high-level scientists who deal with influenza don't necessarily need to understand about the research better, but perhaps to understand that research takes place in a social context is important to understand," Fukuda said, according to the Canadian Press. "But non-scientists - people in the biosecurity world or the political sphere - may need to know research like this isn't cooked up overnight."