Friday, January 6, 2012

The New (Deadly) Flying Flu

In nature the  bird flu A(H5N1)  is very dangerous.  It kills over half the people it infects: much more deadly than the 1918 Spanish Influenza.  But it is a "bird" flu after all, and does not generally pass from person to person.  So outbreaks have been very limited.

But we have young our young scientist, Ron Fouchier, to help correct this matter.  He led a team that took one of the most dangerous flu viruses ever known and made it even more dangerous.

Debate Persists on Deadly Flu Made Airborne
Denise Grady and Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times, 27 December 2011(via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) [Quoted paragraphs not in original sequence].

The news, delivered one afternoon last July, was chilling. It meant that Dr. Fouchier's research group had taken one of the most dangerous flu viruses ever known and made it even more dangerous - by tweaking it genetically to make it more contagious.

What shocked the researchers was how easy it had been, Dr. Fouchier said. Just a few mutations was all it took to make the virus go airborne.

The experiment in Rotterdam transformed the virus into the supergerm of virologists' nightmares, enabling it to spread from one animal to another through the air. The work was done in ferrets, which catch flu the same way people do and are considered the best model for studying it.

The discovery has led advisers to the United States government, which paid for the research, to urge that the details be kept secret and not published in scientific journals to prevent the work from being replicated by terrorists, hostile governments or rogue scientists.

And of course the battle to restrict publication begins.

But half the key to discovery is knowing what can be discovered.  Now that it is known what can be done, others likely will be able to recreate the process.
Some have note that influenza makes a poor bio-teror weapon, as there is little ability to direct the attacks to a specific population.  Given the still large stockpiles of thermo-nuclear warheads available, I am not sure I find that notion comforting.


Craig Smith said...

A scary thought either way!

russell1200 said...

Hey Craig,

Your from a long ways away!

I have a follow up on it tommorow. In th follow up they note that flu vacines and tamiflu type medications would work on it, so it really wouln'd be that bad.

Of course they don't put that toghether with the idea that you could then use it as a directed weapon.