Forum Post: Breeding 50% lethal flu no one is immune to in cut-rate labs not designed for handling biowar viruses... what could go wrong? (that a little censorship can't fix?)
Posted 2 years ago on Dec. 20, 2011, 9:03 p.m. EST by mserfas
from Ashland, PA
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
I can't believe this. Apparently two groups of researchers have actually managed to help the avian flu evolve to spread easily among mammals - presumably including humans. And still they're not working with it in the highest-security laboratories used for smallpox and the like, but in cut-rate "enhanced BSL-3" facilities. Now they have these results and an advisory board is running around asking journals not to publish them.
The first problem I have with this is that when you breed super-lethal viruses and keep the information learned a secret, that's not bio-defense - that's bio-warfare. What would we think if China did something like this? Now that we're setting this precedent, and China being a proud and scientifically powerful nation, I don't doubt we'll find out.
The even bigger problem with this is that viruses get loose from facilities like this. SARS under study got loose from the Institute of Virology in Beijing in September 2003 ... twice, in two separate incidents. ( http://lists.envirolink.org/pipermail/ar-news/Week-of-Mon-20040426/024288.html ) It got loose from the National University of Singapore in April 2004. And it escaped the lab in Taiwan. ( http://www.annals.edu.sg/pdf/35VolNo5200606/V35N5p354.pdf ) Now the SARS outbreak was mostly in Asia, so we didn't really have that much of a chance to see if the U.S. labs are safer. What do you think?
The other problem - if there's time for it to matter - is that the information about this strain has already been pretty widely disseminated (see the Nature article above), and now the government has called attention to it by trying to censor it. We all know how the Streisand Effect works. I would expect some high level al Qaida official right now to be giving one of his underlings about three months to get somebody hired, maybe as a grad student, maybe an undergrad assistant, somewhere on the fringes of the research, and come back with the goods.
The sorry truth is that right now, avian flu has jumped to human to human transmissibility. Right now, we need to be gearing up to fight it with mass immunization as if we already had the reports that it has escaped and is spreading through the population. If the government talks itself into pretending that keeping data semi-secret among large groups of people is a defense - just like it did before the diplomatic cables leak - we can assume that many millions of people are going to die.
And in the future, we should not fund research if we're not willing to see the results posted for all to see. Choosing not to invent this stuff in the first place is the one choice we really have that might keep it secret for a time.