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  • Swine flu science update: 10 February 2010

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The WHO has defended its handling of swine flu — influenza A(H1N1) — after being accused of declaring a pandemic without adequate scientific evidence.

Wolfgang Wodarg, an epidemiologist and chair of the European Council's Health Committee, told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, France, last month (25–29 January) that the WHO was not justified in announcing in June 2009 that A(H1N1) was a pandemic that could kill millions.

He also said that the decision was made only on the basis of a change in the criteria of what defines a pandemic the year before.

"In my view, the WHO undertook an incomprehensible action which cannot be justified by the scientific evidence. The Council of Europe should investigate this to see how the WHO can undertake this kind of dangerous nonsense," he said.

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's special advisor on pandemic flu, said the organisation responded decisively in accordance with the International Health Regulations.

"The new virus spread with unprecedented speed reaching 120 countries and territories in about eight weeks and has now been reported from virtually all countries," he said.

Fukuda rejected allegations that the WHO created a 'fake' pandemic to make money for industry.

"The flu pandemic policies and responses were not improperly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. Cooperation with a range of partners, including the private sector, is necessary but numerous safeguards are in place to avoid conflict of interest."

A report on pandemic flu is being prepared for PACE for debate in July or October 2010.

Influenza A(H1N1) can grow in the human eye, scientists from the Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong reported in this month's (1 February) American Journal of Pathology.

Their research found that, unlike seasonal flu, A(H1N1) can replicate in the conjunctiva, the transparent surface of the eye. This suggests that the viruses bind to different kinds of cells and that A(H1N1) could be transmitted through the eyes as well as the respiratory system.

If one in twenty people who recovered from A(H1N1) donated their blood plasma, more than two-thirds of patients still suffering from the disease could be treated by transfusion, researchers from the University of Hong Kong have calculated.

Their research, which used mathematical models, was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month (1 February).

The authors said clinical researchers should test the safety and usefulness of transfusions as a treatment for A(H1N1).

Vietnamese scientists have developed an influenza A(H1N1) test kit that diagnoses the disease within four hours. The kit — developed by the Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute and the Vietnam Institute of Biotechnology — costs half the price of an imported kit, online news site Thanh Nien News reported last month (28 January).

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