News & AnalysisInfectious Diseases

Controversial Studies Give a Deadly Flu Virus Wings

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Science  02 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6060, pp. 1192-1193
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6060.1192

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Scientists have created an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu. Flu researchers believe it's likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths. The virus's creators say the research, which has been submitted for publication, promises major public health benefits. Knowing exactly what makes H5N1 a virus with pandemic potential is useful because scientists can look out for such changes in the wild and prepare countermeasures. But the work is the subject of a heated debate among scientists, biosecurity experts, and U.S. government officials.