And you thought “Contagion” was only a movie.
Scientists in the Netherlands have genetically altered the N5N1 avian influenza strain — more commonly known as “bird flu” — making it contagious enough to kill up to half the world’s population.
"I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one," Paul Keim, a microbial geneticist who has worked on anthrax for many years, told Science Insider. "I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."
The virus was genetically altered by virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center so that it is now easily transmissible between ferrets, which react similarly to humans in transmitting flu viruses.
Even more frightening is that Fouchier is fighting to have his work published — a recipe for disaster should it get into the wrong hands, according to academics and bioterrorism experts.
Before It’s News reported that Fouchier’s team transmitted H5N1 from one ferret to another, over and over. After 10 generations, the virus mutated to become airborne, meaning ferrets became ill just by being close to the sick ones.
Science Insider also reported that a separate study with H5N1 conducted at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Tokyo by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka showed similar deadly results.
Ordinarily, bird flu rarely affects humans. However, when it does, it is a very vicious strain of flu that is often fatal. The Daily Mail reported that it has killed more than 500 people since 2004.
The scientists justified their studies by claiming their goal was to see if the disease could have the potential to create a pandemic. But the potential deadly consequences have other experts saying the research should never have been conducted.
"It's just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus,” Dr. Thomas Inglesby, a bioterrorism expert and director of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said. “And it's a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it."
And that could cause life to imitate art.
—JOE GREENE, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM