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  • Swine flu science update: 16 November 2009

Developing countries may have to wait for donated batches of swine flu influenza A(H1N1) vaccine, as rich nations take care of their own first.

The WHO expects to send 200 million doses of donated vaccines to the developing world, of which 25 million have been pledged by the United States, but there is mounting pressure within the United States to delay handing over batches until more vaccine becomes available for its own citizens, ScienceInsider reported this month (3 November).

Some governments of developing nations appear reluctant to take responsibility for potential side effects to the A(H1N1) vaccine, says Marie-Paule Kieny, head of the WHO's Initiative for Vaccine Research. In an interview with ScienceInsider (3 November), Kieny said only 40 of the 95 countries offered the vaccine have so far agreed to receive it.

A leading epidemiologist has called on the WHO to clarify its definition of an influenza pandemic — otherwise too many flu viruses could qualify as pandemic strains, causing undue alarm.

Writing on the British Medical Journal's Clinical Evidence website last week (9 November), Peter Gross from Hackensack University Medical Center in the United States, said recent amendments to the definition mean almost any new flu virus that spreads readily between humans could currently be defined as pandemic.

The WHO has shipped antivirals to 72 countries[43.7kb] says Nikki Shindo from the WHO's Global Influenza Programme. Supplies have been sent to Afghanistan, Mongolia, Belarus and Ukraine and others will soon be dispatched to Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, Shindo told a press briefing (12 November).

How influenza A(H1N1) flu kills, how it spreads and what it could turn into are investigated in an in-depth article in Nature published last week (11 November).  

Influenza A(H1N1) is suspected to have killed six and infected at least 1,000 Yanomami Indians in a remote part of the Amazon jungle in Venezuela. Reuters reported (9 November) that the infection was contained but doctors are still on alert for more patients presenting with flu-like symptoms.

Why some indigenous groups are hit hard by A(H1N1) is not fully understood [76.2kb] but may be the result of underlying chronic conditions, said the WHO's pandemic influenza special advisor, Keiji Fukuda, in a press briefing (5 November).

Researchers have developed a drug that is active against the A(H1N1) virus in cells, human tissue and mice. The compound, Fludase, is also active against oseltamivir-resistant A(H1N1). The research was published in PLoS ONE (6 November).

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