London: A US biosecurity committee has withdrawn its objection to the publication of two controversial bird flu studies.
After reviewing revised versions of the studies, the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has now recommended for full publication of the research papers.
The academic studies, which show that mutated forms of the H5N1 virus could infect ferrets in aerosol form, provide the strongest suggestion yet that it could also be transmitted between humans.
Fears over the deadly potential of the virus led NSABB to declare the work too dangerous to publish last year, and to recommend the papers be heavily censored before appearing in print.
H5N1 is mainly confined to birds but is often fatal when contracted by humans, and a variant that was transmissible from person to person via coughs and sneezes could prove catastrophic.
But following a meeting last week the NSABB withdrew its objections and recommended that revised copies of the papers, which include the same data as before but explain their results more clearly, should be published, according to the Telegraph.
Prof Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the author of one of the papers, said his revised version explained more clearly that the virus was “much less lethal” than the NSABB had assumed.
In particular the revised paper clarifies that none of the ferrets, which contracted the virus in, its aerosol form had died – a fact that he admitted was not explicitly clear in the original version.
Prof Paul Kein, chair of the NSABB, said that additional information from a confidential source about the possible risks and benefits of releasing the data had sparked the reversal of opinion.
“Knowing what we know now, and the way the revised papers are written now, the risk assessment of the board is different,” he said.
“I actually think if the original papers came back to us last week the board would have come down in favour of not publishing. I think the writing and the presentation of the data was very important in this process,” he added.