Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Science. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 February 1.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC3838856

Transmission Studies Resume For Avian Flu

In January 2012, influenza virus researchers from around the world announced a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses leading to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals (1). We declared a pause to this important research to provide time to explain the public health benefits of this work, to describe the measures in place to minimize possible risks, and to enable organizations and governments around the world to review their policies (for example, on biosafety, biosecurity, oversight, and communication) regarding these experiments.

During the past year, the benefits of this important research have been explained clearly in publications (2-7) and meetings (8-10). Measures to mitigate possible risks of the work have been detailed (11-13). The World Health Organization has released recommendations on laboratory biosafety for those conducting this research (14), and relevant authorities in several countries have reviewed the biosafety, biosecurity, and funding conditions under which further research would be conducted on the laboratory-modified H5N1 viruses (10, 15-17). Thus, acknowledging that the aims of the voluntary moratorium have been met in some countries and are close to being met in others, we declare an end to the voluntary moratorium on avian flu transmission studies.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is nihms-516289-f0001.jpg

The controversy surrounding H5N1 virus transmission research has highlighted the need for a global approach to dealing with dualuse research of concern. Developing comprehensive solutions to resolve all the issues will take time. Meanwhile, H5N1 viruses continue to evolve in nature. Because H5N1 virus transmission studies are essential for pandemic preparedness and understanding the adaptation of influenza viruses to mammals, researchers who have approval from their governments and institutions to conduct this research safely, under appropriate biosafety and biosecurity conditions, have a public health responsibility to resume this important work. Scientists should not restart their work in countries where, as yet, no decision has been reached on the conditions for H5N1 virus transmission research. At this time, this includes the United States and U.S.-funded research conducted in other countries. Scientists should never conduct this type of research without the appropriate facilities, oversight, and all the necessary approvals. We consider biosafety level 3 conditions with the considerable enhancements (BSL-3+) outlined in the referenced publications (11-13) as appropriate for this type of work, but recognize that some countries may require BSL-4 conditions in accordance with applicable standards (such as Canada). We fully acknowledge that this research—as with any work on infectious agents—is not without risks. However, because the risk exists in nature that an H5N1 virus capable of transmission in mammals may emerge, the benefits of this work outweigh the risks.


1. Fouchier RAM, et al. Science. 2012;335:400. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Fouchier RAM, Herfst S, Osterhaus ADME. Science. 2012;335:662. [PubMed]
3. Herfst S, Osterhaus AD, Fouchier RA. J. Infect. Dis. 2012;205:1628. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
4. Kawaoka Y. Nature. 2012;482:155. [PubMed]
5. Yen HL, Peiris JS. Nature. 2012;486:332. [PubMed]
6. Morens DM, Subbarao K, Taubenberger JK. Nature. 2012;486:335. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
7. Fauci AS, Collins FS. Science. 2012;336:1522. [PubMed]
8. World Health Organization (WHO) Report on technical consultation on H5N1 research issues. WHO; Geneva: 2012.
9. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity Meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to review revised manuscripts on transmissibility of A/H5N1 influenza virus: Statement of the NSABB; 2012; Mar, 2012.
10. Gain-of-Function Research on Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 Viruses: An International Consultative Workshop; Bethesda, MD. 17-18 December 2012;
11. Garcia-Sastre A. MBio. 2012;3:e00049. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
12. Imai M, et al. Nature. 2012;486:420. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
13. Herfst S, et al. Science. 2012;336:1534. [PubMed]
14. WHO . Influenza, Guidance for adoption of appropriate risk control measures to conduct safe research on H5N1 transmission. 2012.
15. Public Health Agency of Canada . Biosafety Advisory: Efficiently Transmissible Engineered Influenza A H5N1 Viruses. 2012.
16. Commissie Genetische Modificatie, Publications Letter in response to influenza research Erasmus MC (CGM/111125-04) 2012 Mar 21; (2012); [in Dutch]
17. United States Government Policy for Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern 2012