Lawmakers push for more details on flu strain mismatch
Republican and Democratic lawmakers who head a House oversight and investigations subcommittee yesterday sent letters to five federal health officials asking how lessons learned from this flu season—with its flu vaccine mismatched to the main circulating strain—could be used to improve the nation's flu preparedness in time for the next season.
The letters, signed by chairman Tim Murphy, R-Penn., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., was sent in the wake of a Feb 3 hearing on the topic before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. They wrote that lessons from the current flu season, which saw the highest ever hospitalization level in seniors, might be used to save thousands of lives in a future severe flu season with a vaccine strain mismatch.
They sent the letters to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and HHS's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Murphy and DeGette asked the CDC director under what circumstances the agency would support supplementing the seasonal flu vaccine with a monovalent vaccine if another drifted strain is detected. They also asked whether the CDC examined possible responses to the drifted H3N2 strain between May and November of 2014. Further, they asked federal officials about the possible role for an approval pathway for adjuvants.
Murphy and DeGette asked federal officials to respond to the letters by Mar 23.
The CDC has said a small number of drifted H3N2 viruses were first detected in March 2014, after the strain selection recommendations had been made by experts at the World Health Organization (WHO). It said it monitored the strains over the summer and that by September, when the push for seasonal flu vaccination began, about 50% matched the H3N2 component of the vaccine. Federal officials have said the mismatch played a role in the low effectiveness of this year's seasonal flu vaccines.
Mar 9 House subcommittee press release
WHO: Flu reaching peak levels in Europe
Influenza in Europe seems to have reached its pinnacle while it remains elevated in North America, and some nations in Africa, Asia, and southern Europe are seeing increased 2009 H1N1 activity even though H3N2 is predominating overall, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday in its weekly global flu recap.
Countries in central and western Europe are seeing especially high flu levels, the WHO said. H3N2 continues to predominate in North America, Europe, and temperate Asia.
Flu activity continued to increase in India and Laos, and it remained high in southern China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Iran. It is declining, however, in northern Africa, the Middle East, northern China, and Mongolia.
Flu activity remains low in the American tropics, and it continues at interseasonal levels in the Southern Hemisphere, the WHO said.
In recent weeks 75% of viruses typed globally have been influenza A. Of those, 79.5% were H3N2 and 20.5% 2009 H1N1. Fully 97% of influenza B viruses belonged to the Yamagata lineage, which matches the "B" strain in trivalent vaccines.
Mar 9 WHO update