“The Morning Briefing” is SmartPlanet’s daily roundup of must-reads from the web. This morning we’re reading about bird flu research and the political issues associated with it.
1.) Bird flu risks vs. research; it’s decision time. Should scientists be allowed to create a deadly influenza virus for the sake of research? The World Health Organization has called for a Feb. 17-18 meeting in Geneva to decide how far scientists can go without potentially endangering the human population. Recent experiments involving the H5N1 bird flu virus have caused a furor in the science community, and consequentially the WHO received requests to call for an international discussion.
2.) Vietnam ministry inspects regional bird flu prevention, control. Seven groups from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development are inspecting bird flu prevention and control in 48 cities and provinces as the disease continues to spread. The checks will involve monitoring prevention and control measures, as well as the preparation of materials, vaccinations and chemicals.
3.) International meeting on controversial bird flu research draws closer. One week is left for WHO to prepare for its international discussion on bird flu research. One official said that 22 invitations have gone out and the WHO is still waiting to hear back from some of the invitees. The main area of discussion concerning the controversial research is that the mutant H5N1 virus has the potential to cause a human pandemic — especially if it gets into the wrong hands, However, should research be allowed in order to yield knowledge about reducing risk for contamination?
4.) Research vs. the Hippocratic oath. The background: two groups of researchers have found a way to make the H5N1 avian flu easily transmissible among ferrets, a mammal that is used as a model for human influenza infection. If it is passed easily among ferrets, then why not humans? With a case-fatality rate of 60 percent, it has the possibility to become a powerful weapon. The issue for clinicians is that the findings put two principles in conflict — the freedom of scientific research and the Hippocratic stricture to do no harm.
5.) Panel explains decision to limit publication of bird flu research. Citing safety risks of “unusually high magnitude,” a U.S. advisory panel has explained why it recommended limiting publication of two bird flu research papers. Stating that ‘misuse’ could prove catastrophic, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board recommended that the scientific journals Science and Nature hold back on crucial details of the two studies.
Image credit: Steven W