WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government asked scientists yesterday not to reveal all the details of how to make a version of the deadly bird flu that they created in labs in the United States and Europe.
The lab-bred virus, being kept under high security, appears to spread more easily among mammals. That's fueled worry that publishing a blueprint could aid terrorists in creating a biological weapon, the National Institutes of Health said.
But the NIH said it was important for the overall findings to be published in scientific journals, because they suggest it may be easier than previously thought for bird flu to mutate on its own and become a greater threat.
"It's very important research," NIH science policy director Dr. Amy Patterson told The Associated Press. "As this virus evolves in nature, we want to be able to rapidly detect . . . mutations that may indicate that the virus is getting closer to a form that could cross species lines more readily."
Bird flu, known formally as H5N1 avian influenza, occasionally infects people who have close contact with infected poultry, particularly in parts of Asia. It is highly deadly when it does infect people because it's different from typical human flu bugs.
The NIH paid for two research projects, at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and at the University of Wisconsin, to better understand what might fuel the virus' ability to spread. The NIH said researchers genetically engineered bird flu that could spread easily among ferrets -- animals whose response to influenza is similar to humans.