Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Second H7 strain of avian flu identified

Researchers from the CDC in Atlanta have identified H7 strains of the flu virus that have demonstrated some of the traits needed to infect humans. Scientists say that although there is no immediate indication that H7 will acquire damaging mutations, it is critical that global surveillance systems cover H7 in addition to H5.

Dr. Tumpey, who led the team from the CDC, found that H7N2 is capable of replicating in the respiratory tract of mammals and can be passed from animal to animal.

"This suggests that the virus could be acquiring an ability to bind to sugars found on the cells of the human windpipe. This happened during all three of the 20th-century flu pandemics, which occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968. “These findings suggest that the H7 class of viruses are partially adapted to recognise the receptors that are preferred by the human influenza virus,” Dr Tumpey said. "

Full story at http://www.birdflubreakingnews.com/templates/birdflu/window.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesonline.co.uk%2Ftol%2Fnews%2Fuk%2Fscience%2Farticle4009755.ece

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

H5N1 vaccine approved by EU

GlaxoSmithKline has created a vaccine, Prepandrix, against the H5N1 strain of avian influenza which has been approved by the European Commission.

"Prepandrix targets an antigen from an H5N1 strain called A/Vietnam/1194/04, which has been detected in birds in Asia, Europe and Africa. Clinical tests have shown that the vaccine is also effective against other closely related variants of H5N1, such as H5N2. The release of the vaccine is seen as a gamble that any future pandemic strain will closely resemble the Vietnamese version used to derive the vaccine."

Although there are concerns regarding the efficacy of the vaccine and how best to implement a vaccine coverage campaign, researchers are optimistic that the development of the vaccine will aid the public health community in the event of a pandemic.

"In the event of an outbreak, the causative agent first needs to be characterized by researchers so that a vaccine can be designed against that strain. Influenza travels very rapidly, so responding rapidly to control its spread is paramount.

In the event that a pandemic strain differs from that used to make the vaccine, a preemptive vaccination programme with Prepandrix would at least give researchers time to respond to develop a new vaccine."

Full story at: http://www.birdflubreakingnews.com/templates/birdflu/window.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nature.com%2Fnews%2F2008%2F080520%2Ffull%2Fnews.2008.844.html

Monday, May 19, 2008

A really important approach for disease surveillance

Over the past few years, FAO, ILRI and a few others have been applying participatory techniques to disease surveillance (in animal health) and I think it's one of the most important breakthroughs in how we'll learn to cope with emerging infectious diseases and zoonosis.

This summary from the Communication Intiative:

"As described in the article, participatory epidemiologists rely on local knowledge to gather data on how a disease is spreading and is kept in circulation, and which diseases have the most impact on livelihoods, from the perspectives of those affected. It is called a 'customer-oriented' approach to disease control and surveillance....

An example is avian influenza reporting in Indonesia, where participatory epidemiologists, as stated here, "highlighted the true extent of bird flu.... When the programme was initiated, the extent of bird flu infection was not known. However, participatory epidemiologists found that bird flu was circulating unimpeded in backyard poultry, and within the first 12 months of operation, 800 disease events were detected..."According to the authors, "traditionally, there is little collaboration or sharing of information between the veterinary and public health sectors." The authors argue the need for veterinary and public health to work together more closely and to apply participatory approaches. They make the following recommendations:
  • Expand the field of participatory public health through active research to identify public health surveillance and response gaps that can be filled using participatory methods.
  • Provide advocacy for policies that recognise veterinary services as integral to public health.
  • Devise innovative ways to integrate participatory disease surveillance workers and participatory public health practitioners in the field; and
  • Create effective models for integrating public health and veterinary surveillance, including the development of unified ‘public health’ databases.

One step forward has been the establishment of the Participatory Epidemiology Network for Animal and Public Health. Its purpose is to advance the science of participatory epidemiology through targeted research, capacity building, policy enhancement and practitioner education. The network is coordinated by ILRI and includes FAO, OIE, AU-IBAR, and non-governmental organisations experienced in participatory epidemiology methods."

For the full paper, go here: http://www.ilri.org/ILRIPubAware/ShowDetail.asp?CategoryID=TS&ProductReferenceNo=TS_080229_001

Friday, May 16, 2008

Indonesia says it will share bird flu information

On Thursday, Indonesia announced that it will start sharing all information about bird flu with a new global database after a year long boycott of the WHO's virus sharing system.

"Experts said participation by Indonesia, the country hardest hit by avian influenza, will be a great help after its yearlong boycott of the World Health Organization's virus sharing system.
China, Russia and other nations that have withheld virus samples and genetic data are taking part as well, saying it offers transparency and, for the first time, basic protection of intellectual property rights.
With nearly half the 240 human deaths recorded worldwide, Indonesia is seen by many scientists as a potential hotspot for a pandemic. But its health minister started withholding virus samples and data from the WHO in January 2007. She feared that pharmaceutical companies would use it to make vaccines her people could not afford."

Fort Worth Star Telegram

Two siblings died of suspected bird-flu on May 4 and May 14 in Indonesia with another sibling being treated for bird flu like symptoms. Bird-flu has not been confirmed as the cause of death as the government needs time to confirm suspected cases.
Via The Jakarta Post

Hopefully, with the collaboration of more nations, a comprehensive database will be able to provide valuable information on the mutation and transmission of AI.

Friday, May 9, 2008

WHO is updating Pandemic Preparedness Guidelines

WHO is just wrapping up a 3 day meeting where experts are working on updates for the pandemic preparedness guidlines.

"Since 2005, there have been scientific advances, such as the development of H5N1 vaccines and greater experience with clinical treatment of H5N1 cases. Moreover, legal developments such as the entry into force of the new International Health Regulations will influence how Member States and WHO respond to potential and actual pandemic influenza threats.

Working groups will focus on areas such as disease control, surveillance, medical interventions, non-medical interventions (such as continuation of emergency services, organization of mass gatherings and school closures) and the role of communications during an influenza pandemic. Once the content is agreed upon, new draft guidelines will be circulated for comment. The guidelines are expected to be published by the end of 2008."

I'm glad to see this happening, but I hope we get to see drafts before the end of the year!


Monday, May 5, 2008

Planning for an Influenza Pandemic: Social Justice and Disadvantaged Groups

From the Communication Initiative...

"This paper builds from historical evidence from the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic that lower social classes and oppressed groups had higher mortality rates than the dominant or ruling population and suffered more from severe social and economic disruption. It examines the application of social justice to the situation of a pandemic and asks for attention to groups characterised by severe economic poverty or subordinate social status and power in the context of planning for and responding to a pandemic. Its specific analysis is of national pandemic planning using criteria set forth in a checklist created from the bio-ethics principles set forth by the Bellagio Group

Because the World Health Organization (WHO) Checklist for Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Planning and most subsequent pandemic preparedness documents do not specifically address the needs of socially and economically disadvantaged groups, an international panel of experts met in Bellagio, Italy, in July 2006, "to identify current and potential responses to pandemic influenza that are likely to have profound effects on the world’s disadvantaged, and to recommend concrete steps to prevent - or at least mitigate - those outcomes that are the most unjust." The group developed a statement of principles and checklists intended to provide specific guidance to planners and those working in the field. The checklist criteria for the development of pandemic preparedness and response plans used for this analysis are:
1) explicitly identify disadvantaged groups within society;
2) engage these groups in the planning process, either directly or through their representatives; and
3)identify and address the special needs of disadvantaged groups in the context of a pandemic. "

To take a look at the paper: http://www.bioethicsinstitute.org/data/files/influenza%20epidemic.pdf

Friday, May 2, 2008

Scientists can make human antibodies faster than ever before...

"A new method of producing antibodies to fight infections has been developed. Researchers have stated that they have found a way to create monoclonal antibodies which could fight the avian flu, as well as other diseases, at record speed.
The research was published in the journal Nature and states that scientists, for the first time, were able to produce proteins which could attack and kill a disease quickly and efficiently.
This new method of manufacturing antibodies could one day lead to many lives being saved as it could quickly battle an epidemic.
Up until now, kit usually took around three months to actually try and create a human antibody that would be effective at all.
With this new method, it could be created within a month, allowing for many more people to survive.
The new method was carried out at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. It uses antibodies produced by white cells of B cells in the body. The method takes genes out of the cells and builds the antibodies off of those.
Researchers expect the technique to become very common in a few years if all goes according to plan."

Story retrieved from: http://www.dbtechno.com/health/2008/05/01/scientists-make-human-antibodies-faster-than-ever/