Should The Dutch Scientist Publish His Super-Influenza Virus Research? Future Epidemics Could Be Prevented With The Risk Of Killing Millions
As many of you well know, a Dutch scientist named Ron Fouchier managed to create a super deadly variant of H5N1 virus . He presented his work at a conference dedicated to influenza this September. The Dutch scientist now wants to publish his findings and different sources perceived this move as a global threat, that could lead to the loss of countless lives. But could the scientific community also benefit from the publication of such a study?
The first thing probably everybody was thinking at, after reading that article probably was terrorism. A terrorist that could be able to reproduce the results of this study. This would result in a devastating scenario. We do not want terrorists starting to think that biological agents are a viable and effective weapon, when counter terrorist organizations hardly started to be experienced in combating conventional terrorist methods. There are rare cases when terrorism has regarded a disease as a viable weapon. A microbial or viral agent is very ineffective without an appropriate way to disperse it. But Fouchier’s new H5N1 virus is highly contagious. One hundred infected terrorists could enter the New York City subway system leading to devastating consequences. Human to human transmission would be in this case the simplest “dispersal device”. And it became quite clear lately that terrorist resources are not limited to this.
On the other hand the US could be regarded as trying to prevent the discovery of antidote for the deadly influenza-virus.
The new virus is so deadly and contagious because it hosts five new mutations compared to the former influenza virus. The research evidentiated that all these five mutations can be found in nature but not combined in a single microorganism. But what if the virus naturally acquires all five mutations leading to an unstoppable global pandemic? The collection of mutations exists separately in nature. This does not necessarily mean that they will be someday found combined in a single strain. It is a matter of probability. Can mankind assume this risk? Individual mutation of a pathogen happens very often in nature, but what most people do not know is that that certain strain evolution is very rare.
Those that support the idea of publishing the paper actually think that it could enable the scientific community to anticipate, therefore better react to a possible future scenario if a highly contagious outbreak occurs.
In the end you can not have it both ways. In order for a vaccine and a protective measure to be discovered the research should be published. But what about the risks?