Entries in Avian Flu (3)


FDA Panel OKs Bird Flu Vaccine Stockpiling

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A vaccine for the H5N1 avian flu, or bird flu, has been approved by a panel of experts to be stockpiled for emergency use in case of a pandemic.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted 14-0 in favor that the vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Quebec, was in compliance with licensing standards under accelerated approval regulations, reports MedPage Today.

H5N1 currently does not spread as easily among humans as it does among domestic foul, but flu experts have feared it could mutate and potentially lead to a pandemic. In infected humans, the virus is highly dangerous. The World Health Organization says since 2003, there have been 608 bird flu cases -- 359 of those cases resulted in death, according to MedPage.

Although the FDA isn't required to follow through with the advisory panel recommendations, it generally does, MedPage reports.

GSK, who has worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in developing the H5N1 vaccine, is hoping the agency will move forward on the panel's approval to stockpile the vaccine.

"We now look forward to a final decision by the FDA later this year and to also continuing our collaboration with the U.S. Government on public health issues," Glaxo VP of vaccine discovery and development, Bruce Innis said in a statement.

GSK says that in clinical trials, the most common side effects of the vaccine include pain at the injection site, swelling, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, joint pain, shivering and sweating.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Controversial Deadly Bird Flu Research Finally Published

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After months of controversial government assessment, the journal Nature published research Wednesday that discloses methodology behind creating a deadly strain of bird flu that could kill millions.

By conducting research in ferrets, a team of Japanese and U.S. researchers found that it would take four mutations of the bird flu virus for the strain to successfully spread from birds to mammals. The research comes after months of delay because of arguments that pitted the cause of medical preparedness against the dangers of disclosing information that could help bioterrorists.

The study is the first of two research papers that discuss the methodology behind creating deadly avian flu strains that have potential to kill millions.

“Currently, we do not know whether the mutations that we identified in this study that allowed the [study strain] virus to be transmissible in ferrets would also support sustained human-to-human transmission,” study authors wrote. “In particular, we wish to emphasize that the transmissible [study strain] virus possesses seven segments [all but the HA segment] from a human pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus.”

The second paper, which will be published in the journal Science, discusses the methodology behind a deadly H5N1 strain created in a Dutch laboratory at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam by scientist Ron Fouchier.

The team, headed by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, submitted the paper last year to the journal, but publication was delayed after the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity made the unprecedented decision to assess the findings prior to publication. But, in a commentary published Wednesday, Nature editors noted that “a paper that omits key results or methods disables subsequent research and peer review....We cannot imagine any mechanism or criterion by which to sensibly judge who should or should not be allowed to see the work.”

They also remarked, “Where there is a benefit to public health or science, publish!”

Since it appeared in 1996, H5N1 has killed hundreds of millions of birds, but transmission to humans has been rare. There have been about 600 confirmed cases of infections in people, mostly people who worked directly with poultry. While rare, it is a deadly human disease. About 60 percent of those who had confirmed cases of the virus died.

Up until now, experts believed that the strain was transmissible from person to person only through very close contact, but Fouchier mutated the strain, creating an airborne virus that could be easily transmitted through coughs and sneezes.

“Research into how flu viruses change, how they develop the ability to infect different species, is critically important for preparing for pandemics,” said Dr. Richard Besser, chief medical editor at ABC News. “It helps you predict what the next pandemic might be and to develop new vaccines.”

The dilemma is that this sort of research has dangers, Besser said. But manipulating the genome of microorganisms is now something even a talented high school student can do.

“The fear is that terrorists will take the lessons from this kind of research and use it to deliberately cause disease,” said Besser. “How you balance the importance for public health with the potential for harm is extremely challenging.”

Experts contacted by ABC News in December were split on whether the research should be published. While most virologists believe in non-censorship for the good of public health, some talked about the potential danger of releasing information on a virus that was so easily mutated.

“The idea that biosecurity consists in policing scientists or chimerical ‘bioterrorists’ is dangerous nonsense,” said Philip Alcabes, a professor in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. “Who knows what the motives of the self-professed biosecurity experts really are, but in practice, their ridiculous pronouncements promote vast expenditures of taxpayer monies that achieve little outside of propping up the very biosecurity industry from which the warnings come.”

“Censorship offends me, particularly in science,” John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, said in December. “Nonetheless, I think there should be review of something like this...but not necessarily by the government. It should be done by people who respect scientific openness, and publishing should be the default position.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hong Kong Slaughters Birds After Avian Flu Scare

AFP/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- Hong Kong health officials slaughtered nearly 20,000 birds after they discovered a dead bird in a poultry market was infected with the virus that causes bird flu, according to Bloomberg News.

The culling is one of a series of precautionary steps the government announced.  Authorities also tested birds from the city’s 30 chicken farms, and so far, no other birds tested positive for the virus, known as H5N1.

The city will also close the market where the infected chicken carcass was found until Jan. 12, and there is currently a ban on importing live poultry.  They are also testing people who may have come into contact with the birds.

In addition, there is a ban on the sale and import of live poultry for three weeks.

Despite the safety measures, a bird flu expert at the University of Hong Kong stressed that while there is a need to be cautious, there is no need to panic.

The first recorded cases of H5N1 in humans came from Hong Kong in 1997, and in response the government ordered the slaughter of all poultry in the city.

H5N1 is a potentially lethal virus and has the capacity to become a global pandemic, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  H5N1 does not normally infect humans unless they are in close contact with birds that have it, but according to statistics from the World Health Organization, there have been more than 500 human cases of bird flu and more than 300 deaths.

After the outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997, the virus didn’t re-emerge until 2003, when it began to spread across Asia, Europe and Africa.  Millions of birds have been infected and have either died or been killed in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio