Yesterday Denise Grady wrote in the New York Times about the end of the moratorium on influenza H5N1 virus research. The story headline read:
Research to resume on modified, deadlier bird flu
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reprinted Ms. Grady’s story with the following headline:
Studies will resume on deadly modified flu virus
Where do these headlines come from, outer space? The H5N1 viruses produced by Kawaoka and Fouchier, which transmit by aerosol among ferrets, are far less virulent than the parental H5N1 virus! Furthermore, the moratorium applied to all research on H5N1 virus, not just that related to these transmission experiments.
If most of the public obtains their virology information from the popular press, it is no wonder that much of the public distrusts these H5N1 experiments.
Yesterday I taught the first lecture of the 2013 version of my virology course (details forthcoming). I told the students that one reason I want to teach virology is to enable them to understand why headlines like these are wrong.
Maybe some of my students will one day write the headlines and get them right.