Policy ForumPublic Health and BIosecurity

Life Sciences at a Crossroads: Respiratory Transmissible H5N1

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Science  17 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6070, pp. 801-802
DOI: 10.1126/science.1218612

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Two recently submitted manuscripts to Science and Nature report success in creating mutant isolates of influenza A/H5N1 that are able to be transmitted by respiratory droplet or aerosol between mammals (ferrets). The studies imply that human-to-human transmission could be possible as well. Shortly after the submission of the papers to the journals, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was asked by the U.S. government to address this question. The NSABB recommended that the papers not be fully published; rather, the basic results of the studies should be communicated without methods or detailed results but in sufficient detail to maximize the benefits to society of the studies' findings. In turn, these recommendations were accepted by the U.S. government and shared with the authors and the editors of Science and Nature.