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A Framework for Decisions About Research with HPAI H5N1 Viruses

Science  01 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6123, pp. 1036-1037
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236194

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Since it appeared in Hong Kong in 1997, the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus has presented a persistent threat to public health and agriculture. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of birds have died as a result of infections or culling to prevent further spread of outbreaks among domestic flocks (1). HPAI H5N1 has caused severe respiratory illness and death in a relatively small number of humans—primarily those who have worked in direct contact with infected poultry (2). Of the ∼600 laboratory-confirmed human cases from 2003 to the present, nearly 60% were fatal. At present, the virus does not appear well-adapted for sustained transmission among mammals by respiratory droplets. However, if the viruses occurring in nature were to become readily transmissible among mammals, they could pose the risk of a pandemic.