NEWS SCAN: Anthrax-smallpox vaccine; flu in Australia, India; dengue in Virgin Islands

Oct 5, 2010

Single vaccine said to target smallpox and anthrax
A team of US scientists says it has developed a vaccine that, on the basis of tests in animals, may be able to prevent both smallpox and anthrax while overcoming problems associated with the existing vaccines for those diseases. The vaccine, called Wyeth/IL-15/PA, combines Wyeth's existing smallpox (vaccinia) vaccine with the immune-enhancing cytokine interleukin-15 (IL-15) and the protective antigen component of Bacillus anthracis, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Integration of IL-15 into the Wyeth vaccine makes it safe in immunodeficient mice while enhancing their immune response, say the authors, who are mostly US government scientists. Two doses of the combination vaccine protected rabbits from a normally lethal dose of inhaled anthrax spores, according to a Science news story. In a test in mice, a single dose of the vaccine protected 33% of the animals against a lethal anthrax spore challenge, versus only 10% for the licensed vaccine, the PNAS report says. The report does not say whether the new vaccine protected animals against smallpox-like viruses, but the team leader told Science that other studies suggest that it does. The PNAS report also says the vaccine can be freeze-dried, simplifying long-term storage. Vaccinia vaccines can cause serious side effects in some people, while the licensed anthrax vaccine requires five doses plus annual boosters, and some US military members have complained of troublesome side effects.
PNAS abstract
Oct 4 Science report

Flu activity up in Australia, down in India
Flu activity in Australia is increasing, while the number of new cases in India has dropped for the third week in a row, according to surveillance updates from the two countries. Australia's most recent report, for the week ending Sep 24, said flu-like illness reports from most surveillance systems increased, with the most confirmed cases reported in South Australia state. The country's rise in flu cases is unusual, because it comes at a time that usually marks the end of the Southern Hemisphere flu season. The number of specimens testing positive for flu has risen slightly, to 17%. The report said 69% percent of the viruses are 2009 H1N1, with influenza A (H3N2) accounting for 9% and influenza B 19%. Meanwhile, India's health ministry said today that it received reports of 337 new 2009 H1N1 cases for the week ending Oct 3, down from 616 reported the week before. The number of deaths from the virus in India has fluctuated over the past several weeks, with 54 reported last week, down from 93 recorded the previous week. Though 17 states reported H1N1 infections, the bulk of them were from four: Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
Oct 5 Indian health ministry flu surveillance report

Virgin Islands see surge in dengue activity
Health officials in the Virgin Islands are reporting a steep rise in confirmed and suspected dengue fever cases, the Virgin Islands Daily News reported yesterday. Eugene Tull, an epidemiologist for the health department, said 85 suspected or confirmed cases have been reported since June, most of them in the last few weeks. He said part of the rise might be due to health providers' increased awareness of the requirement to report suspected cases. He added that of the 85 cases, 58 are suspected, 7 are probable, and 20 are confirmed. Some of the cases appear to be clustered in three geographic areas. He said rumors of a St Croix island resident dying from a dengue infection are false and that authorities are investigating the case of a Virgin Islands resident who died in a Florida hospital from a dengue infection.
Oct 4 Virgin Islands Daily News story

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