News Scan for Dec 05, 2016

High-yield flu B vaccine
Zika monkey challenge
More US AFM cases
New chikungunya cases

Researchers describe high-yield flu B vaccine virus production method

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison today described a new technique that could improve the production of influenza B vaccine viruses, consisting of a "backbone" for adding specific components to protect against both the Victoria and Yamagata lineages. They reported their findings today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The process is designed to grow vaccine viruses at high yield in mammalian cell culture rather than in eggs. The researchers developed the backbone after screening influenza B viruses for genetic mutations that were linked to improved replication. With the mutants as templates, they attached the influenza B surface protein genes that provoke and immune response.

They picked out the combinations that showed more vigorous growth in cell culture, highlighting two candidate backbones linked to higher amounts of vaccine viruses. The team also fleshed out the characteristics of each backbone that contributed to the higher yields and found that both were genetically stable.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, PhD, who led the study, said in a UW-Madison press release that vaccine producers face several obstacles with efficiently making effective flu vaccines. Cell-culture–grown vaccine viruses are less likely to mutate compared with those grown in eggs, but flu viruses don't grow as well in cell culture compared with eggs, he said.

"It may still not be perfect, but it will at least be substantially better than current vaccines," he said. In 2015 Kawaoka's team created a high-yield influenza A virus candidate for cell-culture production. He said several companies and federal agencies have contacted him about the influenza A and influenza B backbones. He added that he is hopeful that vaccine manufacturers can use the systems in cell-culture systems already available in the United States and Japan.

The overarching goal is to develop more effective flu vaccines, Kawaoka said. "This is something we have to do."
Dec 5 Proc Natal Acad Sci abstract
Dec 5 University of Wisconsin press release
Sep 3, 2015, CIDRAP News scan "Experts devise potential high-yield flu vaccine approach"


African strain of Zika vaccine protects monkeys against Asian strain

A new study in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases showed that a Zika virus vaccine formulated with the East African Zika strain MR766 completely protected macaques against Asian lineage Zika virus, which is the one causing disease in the Americas. This finding suggests that immunity against one strain of the mosquito-borne virus is cross-protective against others.

The authors said their findings mean more possibilities for vaccine design and testing. "These data suggest that immunogen selection is unlikely to adversely affect the breadth of vaccine protection," the authors write.  

Though the study challenged only three monkeys, it's the first work that shows cross-immunity between Zika virus strains. Like Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever, also flaviviruses, infection with one Zika strain offers protective heterologous immunity.

The authors also said that protection against detectable viremia from homologous and heterologous virus strains during the rechallenge suggests that "the immunologic barrier for complete protection may be comparatively low," which means that vaccine candidates could be efficacious even if they are not highly immunogenic.
Dec 2 PLoS Negl Trop Med study


CDC: 19 more cases of acute flaccid myelitis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today said 19 new cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) have been diagnosed since its Nov 1 update, with three newly affected states. There are now 108 cases in 36 states.

While the AFM case count for 2016 is still lower than the 2014 case count (120), the CDC is concerned about the increase in cases in recent months. Last year, only 21 AFM cases were reported to the CDC.

Most people who contract AFM are children and suffer from polio-like illness and symptoms, including sudden limb weakness and spinal cord inflammation. The condition can also mimic West Nile Virus and meningitis.

States voluntarily report AFM cases to the CDC, making collecting data a challenge. And despite extensive testing, the CDC said the cause of AFM is still unknown, but likely to be related to other viral infections.
Dec 5 CDC update


PAHO reports only 305 new chikungunya cases

For the second update in a row, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) late last week reported low chikungunya numbers, with only 305 new cases.

Countries in the Americas, however, are well behind in their reporting to PAHO on the disease. The Dec 2 report is for epidemiologic week 48 of the year, but only six nations have reported on week 46 or more recently. Brazil, for example, which has logged about 80% of the cases so far in 2016 and noted 100,000 new cases in early November, has not reported since week 37.

The report covers 2 weeks, as the agency's previous update was on Nov 18 and detailed 231 new cases. Countries and territories in the Americas this year have now reported 441,611 suspected, confirmed, and imported cases.

Colombia saw the largest increase, with 106 new cases and 19,384 for the year. Mexico, Costa Rica, and El Salvador reported increases ranging from 50 to 62 new cases, and the United States had 20 new imported cases. PAHO reported no new chikungunya-related deaths last week, leaving that figure at 135.

The outbreak started in late 2013 on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, and has now sickened 2,320,051 people.
Dec 2 PAHO update

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