Bird Virus May Cause Doomsday

My first book, Reprisal, is about a terrorist who steals smallpox virus  from Russia in an attempt to infect school children in Minnesota and start a pandemic.  Little did I know that non-terrorist scientists may have created a potential plague–much worse than small pox.  See the editorial in a recent issue of The New York Times:

Scientists in the Netherlands created a virus so toxic that if it ever escaped or was stolen by terrorists, the potential harm would be catastrophic.  The scientists from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam are set to publish their findings in two scientific journals–making it easy for terrorists to copy and create the virus.  As a result, the American Federal Advisory Board has asked the scientists to leave out critical details.

Which is more important: scientific freedom or protection of the public against a potential doomsday?

To understand the problem, it’s important to know what the scientists are doing.  Many public health officials have been worried that viruses that are common in poultry and birds  (Like the AH5N1) might “jump” to humans and spread easily by coughing or sneezing–that could have devastating effects.  Much worse than small pox–one of the biggest killers in the history of humans.

Usually, the virus doesn’t “jump.”  But what if it somehow mutated to the point that it could jump?  That’s what the scientists in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin were studying.  To accomplish this they bombarded the AH5N1 virus with a variety of genetic changes or mutations.  During this process, they made only five genetic mutations that enabled the virus to spread through the air.  What if terrorist scientists read the proposed publications and created their own lethal virus?

What makes this research troubling to me is that no one,  not even the funding source The National Institutes of Health, ever conducted a rigorous analysis of the potential dangers before giving the money.  And since the mutated virus did not exist prior to the research, why was it done in the first place?

The scientists say their research may lead to the development of the correct antiviral drugs to be used in the event of a breakout.  But if the mutated virus didn’t exist, why would we need an antiviral drug?  Isn’t this backwards?  Dangerously backwards?  Also, there’s no guarantee that any mutations which might occur in Nature will match the mutations developed in the lab–meaning the antiviral drugs wouldn’t work.

What should we do?


About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.


Bird Virus May Cause Doomsday — 30 Comments

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    • Rico: Thanks for your comments! This is the only blog I’m writing, but if you have ideas of other blogs that I could comment on or link to, I’d appreciate it. In the meantime, I do have some additional resources about plague on my website at Thanks, Colin

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    • Charlene: thanks for your support and ideas. My blog is linked to Facebook and my website, but that’s it. Any suggestions to expand? any other blogs that I could comment on your link to that you would recommend? Colin

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    • Thanks for your support. I use WordPress for both the blog and web site. It’s simple and I did a lot of myself, but I think it’s important to have someone professional add the final touches and check to make sure everything is working. Glad you like the blog–let me know if there are issues you’d like me to cover. colin

  5. We would like to thank you once again for the stunning ideas you gave Janet when preparing her post-graduate research and also, most importantly, with regard to providing every one of the ideas in a blog post. In case we had known of your website a year ago, we may have been rescued from the unnecessary measures we were implementing. Thanks to you.

    • Jo: I’m so happy that I was able to help you in some way. Please let me know how you think the blog is going and any advice you want to give me would be welcome. Thanks, Colin

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