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Call for widespread swine flu vaccination

Friday September 11th, 2009

Children should get any new swine flu vaccine as soon as possible to halt an epidemic, US researchers said last night.

A team from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, USA, calculates that vaccinating 70 per cent of the US population against the virus may limit the spread to that of a mild seasonal flu epidemic.

In Science Express, Dr Ira Longini and colleagues write that children should receive the vaccine first, "no later than this month". Vaccination of children aged six months to 18 years could "effectively mitigate the epidemic", they state.

The next target should be high-risk groups - healthcare and emergency services staff, and those with chronic diseases and compromised immune systems. Two doses three weeks apart may be necessary.

The vaccine is facing resistance from many health professionals who say they will refuse vaccination. In the British Medical Journal this week, a doctor shares her dilemma over the vaccine.

Specialist registrar Dr Laura Claire Price had Guillain-Barre syndrome, a pain disorder affecting the nervous system, and is concerned that the swine flu vaccine is linked to relapse of the disease. But the flu itself may also trigger a relapse.

After weighing the evidence, she concludes: "My current view is to consider having the jab when it becomes available."

* British research indicates that the virus can infects the lungs more deeply than seasonal flu. Professor Ten Feizi and colleagues at Imperial College London, UK, say this is why symptoms can be more severe.

They explain in Nature Biotechnology that the virus "attaches to receptors mostly found on cells deep in the lungs, something seasonal flu cannot do".

Dung of the Devil pills* In China scientists have reported that the roots of a plant used during the great Spanish influenza pandemic may kill the swine flu virus. The plant, Ferula assa-foetida, is nicknamed the Dung of the Devil because of its foul smell - but is "a promising component for new drug development", the researchers say.

* In Britain plans are in place to double the number of intensive care beds in the NHS if the swine flu outbreak takes off again, the British chief medical officer said yesterday.

CMO Sir Liam Donaldson claimed that Britain is "tantalisingly" close to beating the flu.

Previously he has warned that it could start spreading again during the autumn.

Liam Donaldson - Chief Medical Officer
Liam Donaldson - Chief
Medical Officer

Last week the number of new cases in England was estimated to have fallen to 3,000 - with five deaths linked to the disease.

Globally the number of deaths reported from H1N1 swine flu has increased by nearly a fifth in the last week to nearly 3,500.

The spread of the disease is reported to have tapered out in many countries - but it continues to rampage through South Africa and tropical parts of southern Asia and South America.

According to the World Health Organisation, the H1N1 virus is responsible for 61 per cent of all cases of flu diagnosed worldwide. And it reports a study from Japan showing that 40 per cent of elderly people have strong natural immune system protection against the virus.

Yang, Y. et al. The Transmissibility and Control of Pandemic Influenza A (H1N1) Virus. Science Express, published online September 11, 2009.

Price, L. C. Should I have an H1N1 flu vaccination after Guillain-Barre syndrome? The British Medical Journal, 2009;339:b3577.

Feizi, T. et al. Receptor-binding specificity of pandemic influenza A (H1N1) 2009 virus determined by carbohydrate microarray. Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 27, September 2009, pp. 797-805.

Chang, F. R. et al. Influenza A (H1N1) Antiviral and Cytotoxic Agents from Ferula assa-foetida. Journal of Natural Products, published online August 19, 2009.

Tags: Africa | North America | Asia | Child Health | Flu & Viruses | Pharmaceuticals | UK News | World Health

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