Two scientific teams have recently engineered the H5N1 virus to make it readily transmissible between ferrets. Given that ferrets are considered the most reliable animal surrogate for human influenza infection, the newly engineered H5N1 strain is probably transmissible between humans as well. The potential consequences of an engineered human transmissible H5N1 strain are stunning. Although seasonal flu infects as much as 20% of the world’s population—more than 1 billion persons—each year, only a small fraction of those with seasonal flu dies, most often the oldest, youngest, and sickest. If the newly engineered strain were to escape the laboratory (either by design or by accident) and spread as widely as seasonal flu with anywhere near the current confirmed H5N1 human case-fatality rate, it could endanger the lives of hundreds of millions of persons. The possible benefits of this work do not justify taking such risks. As clinicians, we have a stake in this issue with our responsibilities for the diagnosis and treatment of influenza. We embrace the principle of free and open exchange of scientific information, but we also believe in the principle of “first, do no harm.” These 2 principles have come into a moment of rare conflict. It seems most reasonable and prudent to request that the involved scientific community and its institutions exercise restraint by restricting dissemination of the experimental results and discontinuing work on the engineered H5N1 strains. If a highly compelling case is made for continued work on this strain despite the risks, the work should be controlled and should merit the greatest scrutiny.
Browse By Region
Browse By Type
Browse By Date Range
- February 1, 2012
This report contains the recommendations of the NSABB regard strategies for enhancing personnel reliability among individuals with access to biological select agents and toxins.
- March 14, 2012
Enhancing Responsible Science – Considerations for the Development and Dissemination of Codes of Conduct for Dual Use Research
This report was undertaken in response to the United States Government’s request for advice on the development, utilization and promotion of codes of conduct for dual use research to interdisciplinary life scientists, and relevant professional groups. The Board’s recommendations address strategies to develop a code of conduct, the importance of strong institutional support for such endeavor, considerations for the dissemination of a code of conduct, and the need to assess the effectiveness of a code of conduct overtime. The report also provides two tools for developing a code of conduct: a toolkit that includes concrete steps in developing and disseminating a code of conduct for dual use research and an educational module on dual use research that may be used either alone or in conjunction with the toolkit.
- March 21, 2012
Environmental Decontamination Following a Large-Scale Bioterrorism Attack: Federal Progress and Remaining Gaps
“The process of environmental decontamination is a key step in a successful response to a large-scale attack involving a biological agent.” This article identifies gaps in decontamination policy and technical practice at the federal level and provides practical recommendations that will better enable the U.S. to undertake a biological decontamination response.
- December 1, 2010
Introduction — The environment and public health goals hold a common value of healthy populations. The threat of bioterrorism requires a partnership of both, building upon the long history of the link between public health and the environment. This existing relationship is key to an effective system of biodefense for the nation, because the use of biological weapons through every environmental pathway poses a potential threat. Contamination of water, growing crops, grazing cattle, air through inhalation, dermal absorption, or consumption of food or water in the human environment are potential delivery methods. For these risks of bioterrorism in the environment, there is an existing federal regulatory and statutory framework upon which the relationship between the environment and public health can be strengthened and shaped. We took a narrower approach to public health priorities in the environment in 1962 with the publication of Silent Spring, which shifted the direct public health effects regulation to a broader environmental protection policy, which took a more comprehensive, holistic approach to human health.
This Article examines two important features of change in the post-9-11 relationship between public health, public health law, and environmental law. The first is an immediate change in the expansion of environmental laws to address biodefense activities of surveillance and response through either executive action or congressional amendment. The second and most pervasive change is the indication of a shift in federalism in public health law, in a way analogous to the development of federal environmental law in the last half of the twentieth century. This Article begins with an examination of the indications of a shift in federalism in public health, and then turns to the changing role of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the application of existing environmental laws to new problems and controversies in bioterrorism.
Citation: Environmental Law and Public Health Law – In a Time of Plague, 30 American Journal of Law and Medicine 217-236 (2004). This article examines the application of environmental law to the problems of bioterrorism preparation, surveillance and response, and the evolving mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- May 3, 2011