NEWS SCAN: Avian flu, tainted Baxter samples, HHS secretary nomination, H5N1 vaccines, polio warning

Mar 2, 2009

Egyptian toddler critical with H5N1 infection
Egypt's health ministry yesterday reported that a 2-year-old boy from Fayoum governorate is hospitalized in critical condition with an H5N1 avian influenza infection, according to a report today from the World Health Organization (WHO). The boy got sick on Feb 28 and was admitted to the hospital 3 days later. The boy had close contact with sick and dead poultry before he became ill. The WHO lists the boy as Egypt's 56th case-patient, of which 23 died. His illnesses raises the WHO's global H5N1 case count to 409 cases, 256 of them fatal.
[Mar 2 WHO statement]

Baxter samples combined live H5N1 with H3N2
The H5N1-contaminated virus samples that were sent from a Baxter facility in Orth-Donau, Austria, contained a live version of the H5N1 avian influenza virus mixed with human H3N2 seasonal influenza virus, according to a Feb 27 report from the Canadian Press (CP) that cited an official from Baxter. The company said it supplied the "experimental virus material" to an Austrian research company, which then shipped it to subcontractors in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovenia, the CP report said. A WHO official in Europe told the CP that authorities are trying to determine what went wrong at Baxter's facility and that the public health risks from the incident are currently minimal.
[Feb 27 CP story]

Japan finds H7N6 at another quail farm
Japanese officials said yesterday that laboratory studies have determined low-pathogenic H7N6 avian influenza was responsible for an outbreak at a quail farm in Aichi prefecture and that authorities have detected the virus on a second quail farm in the same area, Kyodo News reported today.

Obama nominates Sebelius for HHS secretary
President Barack Obama today nominated Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). She has been governor since 2003, and from 1994 to 2002 she was the state's insurance commissioner. Obama's first choice for HHS secretary was Tom Daschle, who withdrew his nomination on Feb 3 because of problems with back taxes. No information is available yet on confirmation hearing dates for Sebelius.
[Mar 2 White House press release]

H5N1 vaccine built on smallpox-vaccine backbone effective in mice
Long-time flu researchers in Hong Kong and Japan and at the National Institutes of Health have successfully tested in mice an experimental vaccine against avian influenza H5N1. The researchers inserted flu-virus proteins and an immune system–regulating protein called IL-15 into vaccinia, the virus that is the basis of smallpox vaccine, and say the result could be manufactured cheaply around the world.
[March Journal of Immunology abstract]

VLP vaccine protected mice against H5N1
An intranasal virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine provided strong protection against the H5N1 virus in mice, which bolsters support for studying the efficacy of VLP vaccines in other animal models that more closely resemble the human immune system, according to a study that appears today in Public Library of Science One (PLoS One). VLPs are engineered from baculoviruses, which infect only insects, and are grown in cell culture. They are noninfectious but trigger a strong immune response. Scientists hope the VLP technology can offer vaccine manufacturers a way to avoid handling live influenza viruses and a quicker method for producing vaccines, crucial in a pandemic setting.
[Mar 2 PLoS One article]
[Feb 27 Emory University press release]

Polio in Sudan prompts WHO warning
A recent spread of a prolonged outbreak of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) prompted a warning from the WHO today about a "very high" risk of international spread, along with a request that countries heighten their surveillance. The WHO said the outbreak had been contained to southern Sudan and western Ethiopia, but two cases had recently been detected in northern Sudan. Particularly worrisome is the detection of WPV1 in northern Sudan's Port Sudan, which was a launching area for an outbreak that between 2004 and 2006 spread to several other countries, infecting at least 1,200 people and requiring an emergency response that cost about $150 million.
[Mar 2 WHO statement]

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