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Gov't Agency Asks Science Journals To Withhold Research07:36
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Of the 600 people that have contracted the H5N1 bird flu virus, 60 percent have died. (AP)
Of the 600 people that have contracted the H5N1 bird flu virus, 60 percent have died. (AP)

For the first time, a government agency has requested two widely-read scientific publications, the journals Nature and Science, to withhold information from research papers on the grounds of national security.

The research was on the virus that causes bird flu. In nature, the virus is typically transmitted from bird to bird. It has rarely infected humans. Since it was first detected in 1997, only about 600 people have contracted it.

But of those 600 cases, around 60 percent died. That's twice the mortality rate of smallpox. This is why scientists have warily observed the virus, and worried that if it mutated into a form that passed from human to human, it could cause one of the deadliest global pandemics ever seen.

Rather than waiting for nature to mutate the virus, scientists in Wisconsin and the Netherlands did it themselves. They created a strain known as H5N1, with the hope that the lab strain would help researchers better understand the virus and lead to better treatments.

But, H5N1 is so successful it can actually jump from mammal to mammal. While the new virus is held under tight security, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity — a group overseen by the National Institutes of Health — has asked the journals Science and Nature to redact from the papers all detail that would allow people --namely, bio-terrorists — to recreate the experiments.

Guests:

    • Paul Keim, Ph.D, Chairman, National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity

This program aired on December 21, 2011.

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