News & AnalysisBird Flu Controversy

Dead Reckoning the Lethality of Bird Flu

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Science  17 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6070, pp. 786
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6070.786

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Summary

On 2 February at the New York Academy of Sciences, Michael Osterholm and Peter Palese, both prominent influenza researchers, debated just how deadly the avian virus known as H5N1 is to humans. That question bears directly on the current fracas over H5N1 variants created by two labs that spread easily among ferrets, a model for human transmission (see main text). Palese, a virologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, thinks official figures overstate the lethality of H5N1 to humans, exaggerating the risk of the new experiments. Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, asserts that Palese cherry-picks studies to discount the threat. The fact is, the facts aren't clear.