Thursday, May 04, 2006

May 4th Flu Update

(High resolution crystal structure of the haemagglutinin of H5N1)...See Nature story below.

Perhaps the day's biggest news. Thai researchers are prepared to announce that bird flu can be isolated in the blood of victims. This has huge implications for all facets of the flu story, and gives us a glimpse at a virus that may be far different than has been understood. Helen Branswell on the story, with excellent reporting.

Evidence that H5N1 can spread via the bloodstream to parts of the body not normally attacked by influenza viruses confirms this particular flu strain poses special challenges for both patient treatment and infection control, experts say. It also raises theoretical questions about the safety of the donated blood system should H5N1 trigger a pandemic.


“That's a bit surprising because blood is poisonous to flu virus. If you take any blood ... and add it to flu, you kill it (the virus). This showed that the virus was living in the blood,” said Dr. Brown, who was not an author of the letter.


It also raises concerns about infection control for health-care workers and laboratory scientists coming in contact with the blood of H5N1 patients — although precautions against contact with blood are widespread as a consequence of years of experience with blood-borne infections like HIV and hepatitis C.

Today, the US released $1 billion in vaccine contracts to five countries.

They will be expected to develop cell-based technology rather than rely on currently used egg-based tools, a process during which the flu virus is incubated in fertilized chicken eggs. The cell-based method would be faster and not rely on chickens.

CIDRAP on the vaccine story.

The US government is going to advertise about the safety of chicken.

Dr. Robert Webster, one of the world's top flu docs, says this virus is the worst he has ever seen.

Webster predicted it would take at least 10 more mutations before the H5N1 virus could potentially begin spreading from human to human, but said there's no way to know when _ or if _ that will ever happen.

"I've worked with flu all my life, and this is the worst influenza virus that I have ever seen," said Webster, who has studied avian flu for decades. "If that happens in humans, God help us."

Bird flu fears are increasing the sales of survival gear.

Egypt reports its fifth human death.

Ivory Coast confirms bird flu in wild birds and poultry

IHT reports mixed reaction to the Bush Flu Plan.

Interesting article here. A British expert reminds us that the containment plan will require strong surveillance and rapid response--something lacking in our current system, which he says is out of the "dark ages."

CIDRAP with details on yesterday's ferret study.

At the APEC meeting, Thailand plans to talk about its bird flu success.

Excellent article on the important challenges facing the first world in flu vaccines, distribution to developing countries, and the need for basic production infrastructure.

How do you fight something that does not yet exist? reports.

Effect Measure says that there is a lot to like in the US pandemic plan, but the decision to leave the Department of Homeland Security in charge of pandemic response is not something he views positively.

Here's the link to the .pdf, if you want to check it out yourself.

The report from the APEC summit says that people may be genetically susceptible to avian viruses.

Excellent ProMed articles continues the migratory bird debate. Mod comment is below--quote of the day..."Nature is illiterate".

Obviously, to quote the British saying, "You pays your money and takes your choice." Or to put it another way, as I advise my students, "Never lie or make up data. Nature is illiterate and therefore never reads the scientific literature. Therefore she does not know what, according to the literature or Ministerial reports, she should be doing and therefore does what she does, your opinions notwithstanding." As this problem settles out, it seems to depend on how far which species of infected birds can effectively transport H5N1 while migrating. Commercial international transport of poultry probably has no such restrictions but it would be nice to have documented cases of successes and failures. In the meanwhile it would appear that H5N1 has not (yet) been brought back to Europe from West Africa. - Mod.MHJ
ProMed on EU explanations and precaution in Holland.

Nature with a highly scientific article that purports to help reveal a piece of the H5N1 puzzle. I will, candidly, rely on someone like Effect Measure to decode.

North Carolina experts, claiming that waterfowl have carried H5N1 for "thousands" of years, tell people there is nothing to worry about.


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