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Bird flu research publication allowed

Research into bird flu by the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam will be allowed to be published in the journal Science. Initially Deputy Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker had refused to allow publication of the scientific paper out of fears the knowledge could get into the hands of terrorists.

The deputy minister says he has weighed the freedom of science against public safety issues.

Researcher Ron Fouchier welcomes the decision. Mr Fouchier discovered that bird flu H5N1 can mutate making it possible for it to be transferred from human to human. He says the information does not pose a great risk. The virus is not very infectious and scientists can make a vaccine. It is also necessary to learn about these viruses to understand why they mutate. The paper will appear in the next issue of Science out in a few weeks time.

An export licence had never been required for scientific papers before now, according to Mr Fouchier.
Christian Democrat MP Henk Jan Ormel has called for a European Council for Bio Security to control laboratories dealing with biohazards. Once that has been done export licences will no longer be required.

H5N1-infections are rare in people, but they are very dangerous. In over half the cases of infections, the patient dies. Up to now there have been 355 deaths worldwide according to the World Health Organisation. Scientists fear that if a variant is released that can be transferred from human to human, there could be a worldwide epidemic like the Spanish flu in 1918 and 1919, which claimed 50 million lives.

(nc)

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