Scientists Create H5N1 Bird Flu Strain, Government Censors Details

On Tuesday, federal officials asked scientists not to publicize the details of a study where they created the bird flu virus, because of a fear of bioterrorist attacks.

Originally, the government funded the efforts of researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their research found that it is easier than scientists originally thought for the H5N1 bird flu to evolve and spread between some mammals.

In trials, the two teams of researchers separately reengineered the bird flu to create strains that spread easily between ferrets, which mimic how humans respond to influenza.

After government bio-security advisers recommended that the results-which would be published in the Science and Nature Journals-instead publish only general discoveries and not the full blueprint, government officials made the request to limit publishing.

As of now, the research hasn’t been published, but those involved want to see that the full study is revealed, believing it can help more than hinder.

In statements, the two research teams told The Associated Press that they're reluctantly making changes. They say that the government hasn't specified exactly what ought to be omitted.

Dr. Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of the journal Science, said it was his journal that pushed the U.S. to create a system where international researchers would be able to get the full genetic recipe for lab-bred strains- particularly those in bird flu-prone countries like China and Indonesia.

Alberts’ said he doesn't want to publish portions of the findings unless he can somehow confidentially direct scientists to the full details.

"It's very important to get this information out to all the people around the world who are living with this virus and are working on it," Alberts told AP.

Erasmus Medical Center said Tuesday that researchers were complying with the request made by the U.S. but said in a statement, "Academic and press freedom will be at stake as a result of the recommendation. This has never happened before.”

H5N1 causes outbreaks in wild birds and poultry, but may infect people who have contact with infected animals. Over the past decade, it has sickened nearly 600 people, killing approximately 60 percent of the time.