Contagious and Deadly Influenza Strain Built in the Laboratory

The threat of a deadly flu virus wiping out a considerable number of people is always in the back of the collective mind of the medical community. The caution alarm was sounded just recently, when news broke that two scientists reportedly created a variant of the H5N1 flu virus (known colloquially as “bird flu”) that is highly contagious. When tested on ferrets, the ferrets transmitted the disease to one another by merely sharing the same air. This strain of flu has the mortality rate close to the wild version of the strain, making it deadlier than the flu that caused the 1918 pandemic.

The strain was not created for entertainment or fun; rather, it was created to see if the H5N1 flu strain could potentially mutate into a form easily spread among humans. From the results of the current mutation, that could very well be the case. While it had been hypothesized that making the strain more accessible to humans would reduce its overall strength, thereby making it less lethal, the results of the mutation fly in the face of that theory. Extra precautions were made during the process, such as requiring scientists to shower and change clothes before leaving the lab.

Those extra precautions are necessary. A virus such as this could have deadly consequences for the public at large, and it could result in a widespread epidemic if it somehow were released. Therefore, any handling of mutated H5N1 virus must take place in a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facility. This is done not only to protect the scientists working with the virus, but also the general public. The main concern is keeping the mutated H5N1 virus from being handled in substandard laboratories.

Due to the chances of the highly contagious mutated H5N1 strain doing serious damage if it somehow escaped into the air, the perceived fear associated with the virus is very high. Therefore, there have been calls for a voluntary shutdown of all research on H5N1 virus mutations that may be more transmissible to humans until the proper safety measures can be taken. This mutated virus poses a serious threat to human health, and any research done on it must be handled appropriately and safely. This H5N1 virus mutation has the potential to cause a worldwide epidemic of catastrophic proportions if the virus remains as lethal and contagious as it is right now. Researchers have just agreed not to publish their results in a scientific journal, as they could be used for bioterrorism.