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Scientists put an end to moratorium on bird flu research

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In 2012, 40 of the world’s leading influenza researchers agreed to halt a controversial research program in which the H5N1 bird flu virus was genetically altered to allow it to spread through the coughs and sneezes of ferrets, the lab equivalent of humans. Critics claimed the modified disease poses a pandemic risk if it ever got out in the open, so the program was halted. But now, those same researchers have announced that they are going to resume their work, noting that the benefits of their flu research outweigh the risks of an accidental release of their test virus. The goal, they say, is to better understand the nature of H5N1, which is essential to do before the disease naturally emerges in a strain that is contagious to humans. So far, the disease rarely makes people sick, but of those who do get it, half die.

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