Bird flu threat needs open, coordinated response
Last week, researchers announced they had cracked the genetic code of the flu virus that killed 20-50 million people in the 1918–1919 pandemic. They also made the genetic sequence publicly available (see 'Resurrected' 1918 flu virus gives insight into bird flu).
Immediately, a debate began about whether this information could be used to help create a biological weapon. The researchers themselves had, in a paper in Science, demonstrated that the 1918 virus could be recreated.
This editorial in The Lancet argues that the decision to publish the virus's genetic sequence was "undoubtedly the right one". It explains that the move comes as the United States has begun taking the lead in efforts to draw global attention to the threat of another human flu pandemic.
However, the editorial goes on to say that a leaked copy of the US pandemic preparedness report reveals one weak point: "it does not say who is in charge of coordinating a response".
It concludes that what is needed is "strong national and regional leadership, … unrestricted transparency… from all countries, including China … and renewed research efforts to find the best methods of prevention and treatment".