No H5N1 Pandemic

28 February 2008

From the February 29 2008 issue of Science comes yet another article on the H5N1 strain of influenza virus. This is the strain that is quite virulent in birds, and which has infected some humans, causing concerns about an imminent pandemic.

Not all scientists believed the bird flu hype. As I wrote previously, Peter Palese, arguably one of the most knowledgeable influenza virus scientists on the planet, had his doubts.

The Science article (link) is subtitled “As concerns wane that the bird flu strain H5N1 will spark a global pandemic, scientists are warning that the virus, perhaps less of a threat, is here to stay”.

And what virus is NOT here to stay?

Robert Webster, another flu expert, says “I’m less worried about this virus than I was 5 years ago”.

A great deal of research money has been poured into H5N1 research as a consequence of the bird flu scare. Palese says “The spinoff is a better understanding of flu viruses in general”.

But the spinoff is really that next time, the public might not buy into the disaster scenario. Shouldn’t scientists be more careful before they cry doomsday? Even if it results in more grant support?