Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of health security and environment, said WHO convened the meeting to facilitate the discussion of differing opinions that have arisen in recent months, after two research groups -- one in the Netherlands and the other in the United States -- created versions of the H5N1 influenza virus which are more transmissible in mammals than the H5N1 virus that occurs naturally.
"Given the high death rate associated with this virus -- 60 percent of all humans who have been infected have died -- all participants at the meeting emphasized the high level of concern with this flu virus in the scientific community and the need to understand it better with additional research," Fukuda said in a statement. "The results of this new research have made it clear that H5N1 viruses have the potential to transmit more easily between people underscoring the critical importance for continued surveillance and research with this virus."
The experts came to a consensus that delaying publication of the entire manuscripts of research would have more public health benefit than urgently publishing it in part.
"There is a preference from a public health perspective for full disclosure of the information in these two studies. However, there are significant public concerns surrounding this research that should first be addressed," Fukuda said.