Workers wearing protective suits gather to dispose culled chickens after a case of bird flu was confirmed in Kinokawa (Photo : Reuters)
The avian influenza, also known as the bird flu and H5N1, will be studied after a ban placed in 2011 in the Netherlands and the U.S.
According to the New York Times, two groups in the before mentioned countries were genetically altering the bird flu virus "to make it more contagious in mammals."
In a statement published by the journals Science and Nature, 40 scientists noted their intentions to resume their research in the project but will conduct them in designated countries that have established guidelines in practicing such research.
Despite being one of the two countries initially researching the genetically altered bird flu DNA and funding for the research, the U.S. has not yet established such guidelines.
A "voluntary pause" was declared by scientists in January 2012 after criticism rose about the research.
"We declared a pause to this important research to provide time to explain the public-health benefits of this work, to describe the measures in place to minimize possible risks, and to enable organizations and governments around the world to review their policies (for example on biosafety, biosecurity, oversight, and communication) regarding these experiments," the letter stated.
Other scientists had warned that a deadly pandemic could break out if the genetically altered virus leaked out of the laboratories.
"We want to resume virus transmission studies because we believe this research is important to pandemic preparedness," said University of Wisconsin virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the scientists whose work prompted biosecurity experts to call for new restrictions on flu research, according to CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) did issue guidelines back in July 2012 if research on the H5N1 were to continue.
Guidelines by the WHO included:
- Facilities wishing to work with the laboratory-modified H5N1 should critically evaluate the considerable personal and institutional responsibilities inherent in manipulating influenza viruses with pandemic potential that are not presently circulating in nature.
- Only laboratories that meet the appropriate biosafety level AND show conformity to available biorisk management standards (e.g. CWA 15793) should consider working with these laboratory-modified H5N1 strains, in close collaboration and communication with relevant national authorities, and under strict national oversight.
- Relevant national authorities should identify, approve and oversee the laboratories which might work on this material.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), human cases of the bird flu have been reported in Asia, Africa, Europe, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Pacific.
The NCBI noted, "Hundreds of people have become sick with this virus. Slightly more than 60 percent of those who became ill have died."
Symptoms of the bird flu include:
- Cough (dry or productive),
- Difficulty breathing
- Fever greater than 100.4°F (38°C)
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Sore throat