FLU NEWS SCAN: Swedish vaccine-narcolepsy numbers, H1N1 vaccine barriers, low-path poultry outbreaks, asthma and flu

May 31, 2011

Sweden updates narcolepsy–H1N1 vaccine numbers
Further investigation of the link between narcolepsy in Swedish young people and the Pandemrix 2009 H1N1 vaccine found that 93 people, mostly children, were diagnosed as having the condition after receiving the vaccine, The Local, an English-language Swedish news outlet, reported on May 28. Sweden's Medical Products Agency (MPA) said it has found a direct correlation in 88 of the cases. The country's Association of Persons with Neurological Disabilities said it is looking into 135 more cases and will release its report later this summer. In March Sweden's MPA said it collaborated on a large registry study, which found a fourfold greater risk of narcolepsy in those who receive the vaccine, which is made by GlaxoSmithKline. Finland has also found a link between the vaccine and narcolepsy, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is conducting its own investigation into the narcolepsy cases, with results due in July. In March the EMA said it was including some Irish cases in its probe.
May 29 Local story

Study probes H1N1 vaccine barriers in minority, lower-income groups
A study published in Vaccine found that pandemic 2009 H1N1 vaccine uptake was related to age, urban living, views that the vaccine is safe, and seasonal vaccination. The investigators based their findings on 1,569 responses from a national phone and online survey in which people from minority groups and those living below the federal poverty level were oversampled. Beliefs about safety varied across subgroups, with a greater percentage of college graduates reporting that the vaccine was safe. Black respondents and those living in urban areas were least likely to report that the vaccine was safe. A separate analysis of respondents who didn't get the vaccine found that some black respondents tried to get the vaccine, but it wasn't available. The authors suggested that vaccine communications strategies can be designed to account for geographic and population variations.
May 27 Vaccine abstract

Taiwan, Germany report low-path avian flu outbreaks
Two countries recently reported H7 outbreaks in poultry: Taiwan, where the H7N3 virus hit a duck breeding farm, and Germany, where an H7 virus struck a poultry farm, according to reports to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Taiwanese officials said they detected the virus at the farm during intensified surveillance after it turned up on a nearby farm in early April. They confirmed the latest finding on Mar 26, according to a May 30 OIE report. The birds appeared healthy. So far the virus has been confirmed in 20 of 1,900 susceptible ducks. More pathogenicity tests are pending.
May 30 OIE report
Meanwhile, German animal health officials confirmed an H7 outbreak at a poultry farm in North Rhine-Westphalia state, according to a May 27 report to the OIE. Serotyping test results are pending. The report said 20,000 birds were culled to curb the spread of the virus.
May 27 OIE report

Study offers clues on influenza pathway in those with asthma
In asthma patients, influenza activates a newly recognized group of immune cells called natural helper cells, according to researchers at Children's Hospital Boston who studied the pathways of the two diseases in mice. Their study, published in Nature Immunology, offers scientists new drug targets for asthma, according to a Children's press release. If scientists could block activation of the natural helper cells, or their asthma-inducing secretions, people with asthma could be better protected when they get the flu and possibly other viral infections, said senior investigator Dale Umetsu, MD, PhD, of the Division of Immunology at Children's, in the news release. "Virtually 100% of asthmatics get worse with a viral infection," he said. "We really didn't know how that happened, but now we have an explanation, at least for influenza." Natural helper cells were first discovered recently in the intestines and are recognized to play a role in fighting parasitic worm infections as part of the innate immune system, according to the release. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
May 29 Nature Immunol abstract
May 28 Children's Hospital Boston press release

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