Doomsday Virus Created by Scientists

By B. McPherson

Have scientists in Wisconsin and the Netherlands created a path to a doomsday virus? Investigations into the genetic makeup of the Bird Flu virus H5N1 have led to the announcement that the creation of a more transferrable virus is possible. Until now, the H5N1 avian flu virus rarely infects humans. When it does infect humans, it kills 60% of those it infects. Other symptoms that the virus prompts are acute respiratory distress, pneumonia, organ failure and sepsis(blood poisoning).

The research, sponsored by the US government, is about to be published in respected journals. Now the government is asking that some of the details of the work be censored. Security people are waking up to the very real possibility that a more transmissible form of the bird flu could be a bioterrorism tool.

Gene sequencers are for sale to individuals. LabX is just one such site on the Net. There is a new phenomenon among young, go ahead biologists with interest in genetics to set up what are literally closet labs to do private research. The possibility that a nut case or a fanatic would try to replicate this altered virus is real.

While the investigators at University of Wisconsin-Madison may be pressured by their government agencies, the lead investigator, Ron Fouchier, at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, apparently feels no such leanings.

"We will respect the advice and try to publish in censored form," says the study's lead author, Ron Fouchier of the University of Rotterdam. "But we still believe the detailed data should be published. We have the moral obligation to share the details with those that need to know." New Scientist

The US National Library of Medicine gives a good background into the symptoms and history of avian flu.

Currently, Hong Kong health authorities have destroyed about 20 000 chickens and closed the live market until January after finding a chicken dead from the Avian flu. They take the possibility of this virus spreading to humans very seriously. In 1997 a swine influenza believed to have originated in South Central China spread around the globe, resulting in the destruction of about two million birds and the deaths of about 500 000 people, nearly 40 000 of those living in the US.

An earlier influenza H2N2(bird flu), 1957/58,  spread from Asia resulted in the deaths of approximately two million people, nearly 70 000 of them Americans.

Even earlier, the Swine flu epidemic of 1918 left nearly every community bereft. Estimates vary widely at between 50 to 100 million dead from the disease.

A couple of years ago a swine influenza(H1N1) had the World Health Authority in stitches with the possibility that humans were facing another lethal epidemic. Billions of dollars were spent to thwart the spread of the virus which proved to be less lethal than feared.

While there will be explanations that investigations into the transmissible characteristics of this virus are necessary to facilitate the making of better vaccines, the details of this potential bioweapon should be kept as secret as any other high tech weapon.


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