WHY DO we study flu? So we can protect ourselves from it. We've long since learned that H5N1 bird flu poses real reasons for concern; more recently, that it really does have the potential to become a nightmarish airborne plague. How should we react?
Not by delaying the publication of the research, for fear that it will aid supposed bioterrorists (see "Publish lethal flu virus work, says WHO"). There is surprisingly little evidence that such a threat exists. But there has long been a great deal of evidence that the threat of pandemic flu exists.
It is high time we ended it. We know existing flu vaccines, which date back to the 1950s, won't do the job. A vaccine that works against all types of flu - pandemic and seasonal - could. And promisingly, we have made some progress in this direction.
Yet with no commercial route to market, and regulators unable to agree on testing protocols, investment in universal flu vaccine is waning. If half the energy that went into seeing bioterrorists behind every Petri dish was expended on overcoming these obstacles, the squabble over publishing H5N1 research would become what it should be: purely academic.