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U.S. Scientists Recreating Lethal Flu

The Spanish Flu killed 20-40 million people in 1918. Now U.S. scientists have isolated several genes of this lethal flu virus and introduced them into modern flu strains. This newly-engineered virus killed the mice it was given to, while current flu viruses had little effect on them. If the Spanish Flu is recreated, it can be abused, just as anthrax was when it was sent through the mail.

The 1918 Spanish Flu was highly infectious and killed a high percentage of the people it infected, including young people, who have stronger immune systems. Thus the right flu virus can be a serious biological weapon. Should we be developing a new bioweapon now, when we invaded Iraq partly because we said Saddam had similar weapons? Can we keep this new flu bug safely locked up in the lab? Our recent experience with anthrax tells us we can't.

Researchers say they recreated the virus in order to test the efficacy of new antiviral drugs on the 1918 flu. "It simply does not make any scientific sense to create a new threat just to develop new countermeasures against it," says biologist Jan van Aken. "?It is not justifiable to recreate this particularly dangerous eradicated strain that could wreak havoc if released, deliberately or accidentally."

"This kind of research is creating a vicious circle, and could prompt a race by biodefense scientists to genetic engineer unthinkable diseases," says biologist Edward Hammond. "What disease comes after influenza? Biodefense laboratories must not become self-fulfilling prophesy centers."

And how do other countries, especially those already suspicious about U.S. motives, see this research? Van Aken says, "If Jeffery Taubenberger (who reconstructed the virus) worked in a Chinese, Russian or Iranian laboratory, his work might well be seen as the 'smoking gun' of an offensive biowarfare program."

Sometimes it's hard to tell who the bad guys are.

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