This Scientist Created A Deadly Virus That Could Kill 400 Million

“Perhaps the most notable fact about the great flu pandemic of 2018 was not that it came exactly 100 years after the Spanish flu of 1918, but that it killed 5% of the world’s population – nearly 400 million people. The NHS couldn’t handle the high numbers of infection, which was almost a sixth of the population, and there was no vaccine. All people could do was stay home and hope for the best. Nearly every single person lost a loved one.

And to make matters worse, this virus was man-made, created by a professor at an American university.”


This sounds like a horrific science-fiction scenario, but it is possible. Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has been in the lab creating a deadly new strain of the 2009 swine flu virus, and there is no known vaccine. If this virus escaped Professor Kawaoka’s laboratory, it could wipe out hundreds of millions – maybe even close to a billion. Even more terrifying? Scientists are just as surprised about it as you are.

Professor Kawaoka’s work was a secret from the scientific community until earlier this year, when he unveiled what he had done – much to the despair of fellow virologists. One scientist, who preferred to remain anonymous, remarked:

‘He’s basically got a known pandemic strain that is now resistant to vaccination. Everything he did before was dangerous, but this is even madder.’ [source]

What “dangerous” actions is this scientist referring to?

Just last month, Professor Kawaoka told a scientific paper that he had created a bird flu virus he calls ‘1918-like Avian’. Using a process called ‘reverse genetics’, he’d been able to create a flu virus almost identical to what caused the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

Professor Kawaoka and his team claim they created the virus to see if variants of the 1918 flu were as dangerous to humans as the original virus. The team tested the virus on ferrets, and discovered that it ‘may have pandemic potential’. 

Another horrifying experiment of  Professor Kawaoka’s looked into making another lethal strain of the bird flu easier to catch. As predicted, the scientific community was furious that someone would create deadly viruses just to test how lethal they are.


Professor Lord May of Oxford, a former president of the Royal  Society, said:

‘The work they are doing is absolutely crazy. The whole thing is exceedingly dangerous.’ [source]

Marc Lipsitch, Professor of  Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said:

‘I am worried that this signals a growing trend to make “transmissible” novel viruses willy-nilly. This is a risky activity, even in the safest labs.  Scientists should not take such risks without strong evidence that the work could save lives, which this paper does not provide.’ [source]

Professor Simon Wain-Hobson of the Virology Department at the Pasteur Institute in Paris said what we are all thinking:

‘If society understood what was going on, they would say “What the F are you doing?” ’ [source]

That’s a good question – what ARE they doing? Professor Kawaoka has been trying to justify his research.

The professor explained that wild birds still harbor several variants of the influenza A virus, which can be transmitted to humans. One of the subtypes of the virus is H5N1 – which is not only the subtype behind the 1918 outbreak, but what is now called ‘bird flu.’ Fortunately, only approximately 400 people have died from H5N1 compared to the outbreak in 1918.

However, this does not mean that a new form of H5N1 couldn’t be more dangerous. Professor Kawaoka defends his work, saying that ‘foreseeing and understanding this potential is important for effective surveillance’.

Professor Kawaoka and his team created new forms of the virus to observe how they function and spread. Although Professor Kawaoka says the experiments are only done in the most secure conditions, the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin has not been rated at the most secure level.

Even more terrifying, Lynn Klotz, a Senior Science Fellow at the U.S. Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, stated in a 2012 paper that 42 institutions were working with three potentially deadly disease-causing substances. These substances are smallpox, the SARS virus and H5N1. In her paper, Klotz states that there is an estimated 80% chance that one of these diseases will escape a laboratory every 13 years. She said:

‘This level of risk is clearly unacceptable.’ [source]

One danger that Klotz’s work did not account for – perhaps one that heightens the risk of a man-made virus escaping – is terrorism. Saying that militant Islamists would break into laboratories to release H5N1 strains might seem far-fetched, but policymakers take it very seriously. In 2011, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity ordered scientific papers on H5N1 to be censored. In 2012, many scientists stopped researching H5N1 because of such concerns.

Although many virologists believe the risks from not studying deadly viruses are greater than the risks of these viruses falling into the wrong hands, many scientists are still uncomfortable with how some research is done. This recent news by Professor Kawaoka is sure to keep that concern alive.

Scientists like Professor Marc Lipsitch support the idea of ‘ethical alternatives’ in response to the approach by Professor Kawaoka. He said:

‘In the case of influenza, we anticipate that such a risk assessment will show that the risks are unjustifiable.’ [source]

Despite the concern from the rest of the scientific community, Professor Kawaoka insists that his work is safe and ethical. However, nothing is ever 100% certain and there is always a chance that one day, someone won’t feel well after walking out of Professor Kawaoka’s laboratory. Should this happen, we can only hope that those same scientists will have a cure.