Bird Flu Research Resumes; Watch Out for the Zombies

First Posted: Jan 23, 2013 02:07 PM EST

It sounds like the beginning of a zombie horror film. Researchers are looking into a way to make a virus spread to people more easily. The virus won't turn you into a flesh-eating monstrosity, though. In this case, the virus is the bird flu.

This type of flu, known as H5N1, is deadly. It has killed about half of the people who have been infected. According to the BBC News, the only reason it has not caused millions of deaths around the world is because it currently lacks the ability to spread from one person to another. The cases that have been reported have all been from people who have had close contact with infected birds (hence the name "bird flu"). Currently, scientists estimate that it would take between five and nine mutations in the virus' genetic code before it could jump from human to human.

Needless to say, understanding this particular virus is important. Researchers at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison collaborated in order to further study it. Their research was the beginning of a controversy that still exists to this day. Fierce debate occurred over whether or not the virus was too dangerous to study; worries included the virus escaping the laboratory or being used for terrorism. Eventually, a moratorium was called to give authorities time to fully assess the safety of the studies.

Now, it seems, these studies will continue. A letter signed by 40 virus researchers around the world and published in the journals Science and Nature said that this moratorium was being lifted. However, the fate of U.S. scientists remains more uncertain. The U.S. has not decided on the conditions that it will allow the experiments to take place.

Scientists stress the importance of these studies, stating that they're essential in helping prevent deadly outbreaks of the bird flu in the future.

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