Researches stopped their studies amid making of a lethal strain of bird flu virus over concerns that it could be potentially dangerous due to its ability of being used as a weapon in bioterrorism.
In a letter published by the journal of Nature and Science said that the research has been halted for a period of 60 days, to analyze the risks and benefits associated with the air borne version of the virus. During this period no more experiments will be conducted to study the way the virus can be transmitted form one living being to another. The letter asks the international forum to date over the issue before the studies could go further. "We realize that organizations and governments around the world need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that stem from the work," the scientists wrote.
"To provide time for these discussions, we have agreed on a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses leading to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals." The scientist noted that the new version of the virus was created while they were researching how the mutations of the virus could pose a deadly threat to the humans.
The scientists said that though the studies are expected to be beneficial to public health, the mere possibility that the virus escapes the laboratory and gets in the wrong hands, it could be potentially destructive. The fears have triggered an intense debate over the matter in the media and regulatory authorities. Earlier, last month, the National Science Advisory Board suggested that important details should be censored from the publication of the research but it started causing an international uproar, forcing the scientists to give out the full details.
"I would have preferred if this hadn't caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can't change that," said Ron Fouchier, the lead researcher from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, told Science Insider. "So I think it's the right step to make."
The studies showed that the virus H5N1 could be transmitted between ferrets through the air, depicting the way it could be transmitted among humans through coughing and sneezing. However, due to ethical reasons, the next step of testing the transmission among humans was not undertaken.
Avian flu has becoming a serious threat to public health, infecting more than 500 people in a number of countries since 2003 while taking more than 60% of the lives.