Bird-Flu Research May Be Published by Journals, U.S. Says

The U.S. government said it will allow publication of research by scientists who re-engineered the avian influenza virus to make it more lethal.

The research is critical to understanding and detecting bird flu strains, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said today in a statement. Publication has been on hold since December, when Sebelius’s agency asked the journals Science and Nature to censor some data in the interest of national security.

Groups led by the two scientists -- Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin and Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam -- engineered the H1N1 virus to be more transmissible between ferrets, mammals whose response to the flu is most like humans. Science, which is holding the Fouchier paper, is waiting until after a meeting of Dutch regulators in The Hague next week before deciding when it will publish the work, Kathy Wren, a spokeswoman for the journal, said by phone.

“This information has clear value to national and international public health preparedness efforts and must be shared,” Collins said in the statement.

The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended in March that Sebelius and Collins approve publication. A World Health Organization panel met in Geneva in February and recommended publication of the studies.

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