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Controversial 'bird flu' edits move ahead

Top US scientists on Wednesday defended their bid to stop details of a mutant bird flu virus from being published and called for global cooperation to ward off an uncontrollable pandemic.

Meanwhile, scientists involved in the experiments said they are cooperating with government officials and the editors of the journals Science and Nature to pare down their research for publication in the coming weeks.

The controversy arose when two separate research teams -- one in the Netherlands and the other in the United States -- separately found ways to alter the H5N1 avian influenza so it could pass easily between mammals.

Until now, bird flu has been rare in humans, but particularly fatal in those who do get sick. H5N1 first infected humans in 1997 and has killed more than one in every two people that it infected, for a total of 350 deaths.

The concern is the virus could mutate and mimic past pandemic flu outbreaks such as the "Spanish flu" of 1918-1919 which killed 50 million people, and outbreaks in 1957 and 1968 that killed three million.

The recommendations from a non-governmental advisory panel that key details of the newly altered virus be withheld drew fire from some scientists who saw it as censorship of material that is essential for surveillance and the hunt for vaccines.
 
 

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