Over the past two months, a series of mishaps at the CDC and NIH — involving mishandled anthrax, mislabeled influenza and misplaced smallpox — has alarmed the scientific community. The common theme surrounding all of them is human error.
These mishaps show why we need to stop conducting certain types of research on strains of flu virus that could cause worldwide epidemics, or pandemics. In these types of research — which involve live, intact viruses that can spread from person to person — the risks outweigh the benefits.
The scientists who are investigating these strains hope to develop vaccines capable of preventing the spread of the viruses. But it’s possible that they could accidentally cause what they are trying to prevent. Additionally, actively trying to make these types of flu more dangerous, in order to develop vaccines against a pandemic virus, and publishing the recipes provides a handbook for potential bio terrorists who might create and release the viruses.
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