Editorial: Avian influenza and the dual-use research debate

The Lancet Infectious Disease
Mar 2012  Volume 12  Number 3  p167 – 254

Avian influenza and the dual-use research debate
The Lancet Infectious Diseases

Since the first human cases of infection with avian influenza H5N1 were reported 15 years ago, the disease has caused 344 deaths among 583 known cases—a case fatality of nearly 60%. Despite the highly lethal nature of this virus, it is very rarely transmitted from birds to people, and even less frequently, if ever, transmitted from person to person. Nonetheless, the possibility of the virus mutating or recombining with another to develop pandemic potential is a bleak prospect for public health. So it is not surprising that the news that two groups of researchers have purposefully generated H5N1 strains that are transmitted easily in aerosols among ferrets, a widely used model of human influenza transmission, has generated a fierce debate about the conduct and dissemination of dual-use research, as reported in this month’s Newsdesk.