In an unusually harsh statement on Dec. 30, the WHO condemned the H5N1 experiments and demanded that the methods used to obtain superbugs remain secret, but also cited concern that any further restrictions on the flow of scientific information might undermine the fragile flu framework. Noting the extreme dangers posed by H5N1, which since 1997 has killed 60 percent of infected human beings, the WHO said, "Research which can improve the understanding of these viruses and can reduce the public health risk is a scientific and public health imperative" that requires open sharing of all viruses and information.
Meanwhile, bird flu is back, causing human and bird infections and deaths in Hong Kong, mainland China, India, Bangladesh, and Egypt. A Shenzhen bus driver died of H5N1 on Dec. 31; the source of his infection has not been determined. Nature carries out its own mutations. Indeed, all five of the mutations that were the key in Fouchier's experiments to transforming garden-variety bird flu into a supercontagious mammalian killer have already occurred separately in nature. Yes, the birds and viruses have already done it -- but not with all five mutations in a single viral strain. The biological clock is ticking. In late December, the U.S. CDC issued a warning, noting that yet another flu threat looms, combining the 2009 H1N1 "swine flu" with a H3N2 influenza now circulating in American commercial pig farms. The naturally occurring recombinant flu had infected a dozen Americans by Christmas.