Likelihood of influenza-based biothreat questioned

The controversy over the U.S. federal government's recent request to restrict the publication of research into H5N1 avian flu has failed to address the likelihood that the virus would be selected as a bioterror agent.

Peter Christian Hall, the writer of a novel about an H5N1 avian flu outbreak, challenges the assumption that H5N1 could ever be used effectively as a weapon, according to Reuters.

Hall does not dispute that the virus could cause havoc if it learned how to circulate readily among humans. As of last week, when H5N1 was responsible for the death of a man near Hong Kong, it had killed approximately 60 percent of the 600 people confirmed to have been infected with it.

"So why wouldn't a desperate outlaw state-or terrorists-want to weaponize the most dreaded flu strain scientists have ever found? Hall said, Reuters reports. "Because H5N1 would make a wretched weapon."

The author said that throughout the history of biological warfare, no organization has ever attempted to weaponize a flu virus.

Influenza, Hall said, is an equal opportunity menace, especially when it comes to an unfamiliar strain that humanity lacks any immunity to. Those who are attempting to construct a pandemic, H5N1 would be at great risk of launching a global contagion as opposed to attacking only a target population.

Even the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo chose biological agents that it could control to a higher degree. It used sophisticated science to produce deadly weapons, but none that drastically put its own members at risk.

Ultimately, Hall said that rigorous care must be taken to safeguard pandemic flu strains, but considers it equally or more perilous that the U.S. government would attempt to suppress promising scientific work, Reuters reports.