Thanks to virologist Ron Fouchier from the Netherlands, we have one more thing to worry about. Despite threats from terrorists, car accidents, health problems and even global warming; this incredibly smart scientist, (she said sarcastically) decided it would be a good idea to engineer an avian flu that not only is airborne and extremely contagious, but that also had the potential to kill HALF the world’s population.
The avian flu, also known as H5N1, affects birds and emerged in humans ten years ago; first in Asia, then traveling around the world. Human cases are rare but they are deadly, killing about half the people infected. Thankfully, the avian flu is not an airborne contagion, until now.
Fouchier, who conducted his research at Erasmus Medical Centre, admitted that the new strain was probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make.
He did this by spreading the engineered flu virus throughout a population of ferrets, and he noticed that as the virus reproduced, it adapted to spread even faster. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that any strains of influenza that can pass between ferrets can also pass between humans. Ten generations later, his efforts had created an airborne strain with the potential to kill half the human population. After presenting his work at the Influenza conference in Malta, he now wants to publish his study in a scientific journal, basically letting anyone know how he made it. His logic? So those responsible for responding to bioterrorism can be prepared for the worst case scenario. The research has set off alarms among colleagues who are urging Fouchier not to publish, for fear the recipe could wind up in the wrong hands.
Fouchier and a handful of other scientists who have performed similar experiments, believe publishing would help the scientific community prepare for an H5N1 pandemic. Not publishing, they say, could leave researchers in the dark as to how to respond to an outbreak.
Personally, I don’t understand why he would even create this virus? And if Hollywood has taught us anything, it is that this will eventually end up in the wrong hands. I, for one, welcome our new microbial overlords.