Deadly bird flu studies to stay secret for now -WHO

GENEVA Fri Feb 17, 2012 11:45am EST

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GENEVA Feb 17 (Reuters) - Two studies showing how scientists mutated H5N1 bird flu into a virus that could create a human pandemic will be made public eventually, but a moratorium will remain for biosecurity officials to assess the risks, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.

Speaking after a high-level meeting of flu experts and U.S. security officials in Geneva, a WHO spokesman said an agreement had been reached in principle to publish the controversial work only after deeper risk analyses have been carried out.

The WHO called the meeting to break a deadlock between scientists who have studied the mutations needed to make H5N1 bird flu transmit between mammals, and the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which wanted the work censored before it was published in scientific journals.

Biosecurity experts fear mutated forms of the virus that the research teams in The Netherlands and the United States independently created could escape or fall into the wrong hands and be used to spark a pandemic worse than the 1918-19 outbreak of Spanish flu that killed up to 40 million people.

"There must be a much fuller discussion of risk and benefits of research in this area and risks of virus itself," the WHO's Gregory Hartl told reporters. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, writing by Kate Kelland in London, editing by Andrew Heavens)

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