FLU NEWS SCAN: Global flu picture, flu vaccine projection, vaccine-narcolepsy link, avian flu vaccines in Egypt

Jul 15, 2011

WHO sees variable Southern Hemisphere flu activity
The flu season is on the upswing in Australia and some parts of New Zealand, though the season appears to have recently peaked in South Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported today in a global flu update. Influenza B has been the predominant strain in New Zealand and in the state of South Australia, while the 2009 H1N1 virus has been more common in the rest of Australia. In South Africa, flu transmission—most of it 2009 H1N1—is still very active but is showing signs of early decline, the WHO noted. Though flu activity is low in most tropical regions, hot spots include Brazil and Ghana. Localized transmission is occurring in India and Singapore. In the Northern Hemisphere's temperate regions, flu is staying at summer's baseline levels. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in its weekly flu update today that flu activity is very low, with the levels of deaths from flu and pneumonia below the epidemic threshold for this time of year. One more US pediatric flu death was reported, however, linked to an H3 virus. It raises the season's total to 133.
Jul 15 WHO influenza update
Jul 15 CDC flu update

WHO: flu vaccine output to double by 2015
The WHO projects that seasonal flu vaccine production will double by 2015 when 11 new facilities in developing countries begin operations, Reuters reported today. The estimate came from a 3-day meeting of the WHO's Global Action Plan for Influenza Vaccines (GAP), after which WHO Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny briefed reporters. She said if the companies are successful, the number of flu vaccine doses could reach 1.7 billion by 2015. In the event of another flu pandemic, the experts predicted the world's 37 vaccine makers could triple their capacity to produce 5.4 billion doses of vaccine against a new virus. Kieny said the goal is to build pandemic flu vaccine capacity by supporting the development of vaccine in developing nations, which would then see easier and more affordable access. The GAP, launched in 2006 to provide enough flu vaccine to immunize the world, has an advisory group that meets every year to review progress on its main objectives. It was expected to review and adopt an action plan at its July meeting, according to WHO background materials.
Jul 15 Reuters story
WHO background materials

Finland may compensate H1N1 vaccinees who have narcolepsy
The Finnish government will provide additional funds, if needed, to compensate those who suffered narcolepsy after receiving Pandemrix, GlaxoSmithKline's 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine, according to a report from the Finnish news service YLE. A government task force reported in February that Finnish children and youth aged 4 to 19 who received the vaccine were nine times as likely to suffer narcolepsy as their unvaccinated peers were. Insurance companies are ready to pay up to 30 million euros ($42 million) to compensate the vaccinees, and Maria Guzenina-Richardson, minister of health and social services, said the government is ready to provide extra compensation funds if necessary, according to YLE. The story said the European Medicines Agency would render its judgment on the suspected link between Pandemrix and narcolepsy next week, which will clear the way for decisions on compensation. Cases of narcolepsy have also been reported in Pandemrix recipients in Sweden and Ireland.
Jul 14 YLE report
Feb 1 CIDRAP News story on narcolepsy cases in Finland

Study questions effectiveness of avian flu vaccines for Egypt's poultry
A study published online by Vaccine suggests that avian influenza vaccines being used in Egypt's poultry may not adequately protect them from H5N1 avian flu and may even contribute to spread of the disease. A nationwide vaccination campaign was launched after avian flu first hit Egypt's poultry flocks in 2006, the report notes. In the study, a team of German and Egyptian researchers vaccinated breeder chickens at 6, 12, and 18 weeks with a commercial H5N2 vaccine and later exposed them to H5N1 viruses. The first dose generated a high level of antibodies against the H5N2 vaccine strain but a much lower level against the "classic" H5N1 strain circulating in Egypt. Antibodies against the classic strain increased after the second dose, but the vaccine generated no antibody response to a newer H5N1 variant circulating in the country. When eight chickens were challenged at 50 weeks with the classic H5N1 strain, just one died, and the rest showed mild or no illness. But 6 of 8 chickens that were exposed to the variant H5N1 strain died. The exposed chickens continued to lay eggs through most of the observation period, and virus was detected on the outer shell of 17 of 40 eggs. The findings highlight "the risk of silent virus spread by vaccinated animals and point to eggs as a possible vector," the report says.
Jul 13 Vaccine report abstract

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