Experts decide to delay publication of flu virus research after UN-organized talks

WHO staff member talks to a backyard chicken owner in Serpong, Indonesia. Photo: WHO/Jonathan Perugia

17 February 2012 – A group of public health experts announced today that they have agreed to delay the publication of new research on the H5N1 influenza virus after a meeting convened by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

“Given the high death rate associated with this virus – 60 per cent of all humans who have been infected have died – all participants at the meeting emphasized the high level of concern with this flu virus in the scientific community and the need to understand it better with additional research,” said Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Health Security and Environment.

WHO convened the meeting to facilitate the discussion of differing opinions that have arisen in recent months after two research groups, one in the Netherlands and the other based in the United States, have created versions of the H5N1 influenza virus which are more transmissible in mammals than the H5N1 virus that occurs naturally.

“The results of this new research have made it clear that H5N1 viruses have the potential to transmit more easily between people underscoring the critical importance for continued surveillance and research with this virus,” Mr. Fukuda said.

During the talks, the group of experts came to a consensus that delaying publication of the entire manuscripts of research would have more public health benefit than urgently publishing it in part.

The experts also agreed that further research on the virus is necessary to protect public health and to review the biosafety and biosecurity implications of the laboratory-modified virus.

“There is a preference from a public health perspective for full disclosure of the information in these two studies. However, there are significant public concerns surrounding this research that should first be addressed,” Mr. Fukuda said.

In a news release, WHO said that it will continue the discussion with relevant experts to move the issue forward.


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