The Internet is abuzz with the latest news on bird flu…turns out a government advisory board is asking scientific journals not to publish details of certain biomedical experiments, for fear that the information could be used by terrorists to create deadly viruses and touch off epidemics. DUH?!?!

Here is the scoop….The U.S. government paid scientists to figure out how the deadly bird flu virus might mutate to become a bigger threat to people and two labs (in the United States and the Netherlands) succeeded in creating new strains that are easier to spread. On Tuesday, federal officials took the unprecedented step of asking those scientists not to publicize all the details of how they did it. The worry: That this research with lots of potential to help the public might also be hijacked by would-be bioterrorists. The labs found that it appears easier than scientists had thought for the so-called H5N1 bird flu to evolve in a way that lets it spread easily between at least some mammals.

21Flu Cnd Popup
The virus, A(H5N1), causes bird flu, which rarely infects people but has an extraordinarily high death rate when it does. Since the virus was first detected in 1997, about 600 people have contracted it, and more than half have died. Nearly all have caught it from birds, and most cases have been in Asia. Scientists have watched the virus, worrying that if it developed the ability to spread easily from person to person, it could create one of the deadliest pandemics ever.

A government advisory panel, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, overseen by the National Institutes of Health, has asked two journals, Science and Nature, to keep certain details out of reports that they intend to publish on the research. The panel said conclusions should be published, but not “experimental details and mutation data that would enable replication of the experiments.”

Seems reasonable wouldn’t you say?!?!?  However, scientists and journal editors are generally adamant about protecting the free flow of ideas and information, and ready to fight anything that hints at censorship.

Dead Seals 10 16 11
Then in a totally different set of events, The death of 162 seals that washed up along the New England coast this year could be linked to a virus similar to one found in birds. Since Sept. 1, officials have been investigating the unusual occurrence, saying they are still collecting data, testing and continuing research. The dead harbor seals were collected along Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts coasts by the New England Aquarium.

“This H3N8 virus is usually associated with wild birds, and a separate group of H3N8 infects horses and dogs,” said Dr. Hon Ip, of the USGS’s National Wildlife Health Center. “This is the first time that a virus which is similar to the H3N8 avian influenza virus has been associated with a large scale mortality in marine mammals.”

The influenza A virus subtype has never before been seen in harbor seals. Officials said it caused the death of at least five of the 162 animals that washed up on New England shores this year. Experts believe that influenza A virus caused a bacterial pneumonia which was responsible for the death of the seals.

In most cases in the past where land animals were infected with the H3N8 virus and suffered upper respiratory infections, they recovered. This is the first time it has been seen in harbor seals.