Previously censored research in the journal Science and another one in Nature has been released and shows how the H5N1 bird flu virus can be genetically altered in only five steps and transmitted in mammals, resulting in a massive pandemic.
Nature magazine wrote that the pandemic could "be just a few mutations away from gaining the ability to spread from person to person."
"This week saw the publication of the second of two papers identifying mutations that give H5N1 the ability to spread through the air between ferrets," wrote Nature. "What is most unsettling about them, say many in the flu community, is the evidence they provide that the wild virus could spark a pandemic on its own."
The U.S. government had asked the publications not to release the results on concerns the information could be misused by bioterrorists. But the government eventually reversed its decision, arguing the studies should be published in uncensored form.
"This line of research is critically important because it will help public health officials understand, detect and defend against the emergence of H5N1 virus as a human threat, a development that could pose a pandemic scenario," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.