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  • Swine flu science update: 18 January 2010

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The WHO is to investigate its handling of swine flu [PDF, 900kB] — influenza A(H1N1) — amid criticism that it overreacted to the pandemic.

The pandemic will be the subject of a hearing organised by the Council of Europe later this month (26 January).

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's special advisor on pandemic influenza, confirmed last week (14 January) that the organisation would participate in the discussion, and also conduct its own review of its response to the pandemic.

The WHO is under fire by some European politicians who have accused it of exaggerating the seriousness of influenza A(H1N1). BBC Online reported last week (12 January) that wealthy countries spent billions on medicines that many now believe are unnecessary.

Fukuda said that "the actions taken by countries to deal with this pandemic have been by far "the best in history" and that this played a major part in alleviating the crisis.

Reuters reported last week (12 January) that the United States government has halved its order for A(H1N1) vaccine from an Australian pharmaceutical manufacturer, one of five companies from which it has ordered a total of 251 million doses.

The report quoted Germany's Bild newspaper as saying that the German government had also cut its GlaxoSmithKline order by one third.

But, as the A(H1N1) pandemic gradually declines, new strains are likely to replace it, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has warned. Earlier this month (8 January) Reuters quoted the centre's flu expert Angus Nicholl, who said: "The historical pattern of human influenzas is that after pandemics, the world experiences a new mix of viruses".

Among airline passengers, those flying economy are the most at risk of catching A(H1N1), researchers reported in BMC Medicine last month (24 December). They used mathematical modelling to calculate the odds of catching the virus on a flight. In economy, 2–5 people will be infected by every one person with A(H1N1) during a five-hour flight (0–1 for first class) and on a long flight of 17 hours this increases to between seven and 17 (2–5 for first class).

Producing influenza A(H1N1) vaccine in insect cells is a quick and safe alternative to the traditional method of using chicken eggs, Austrian researchers have found. The findings were published in Biotechnology Journal earlier this month (5 January).

A(H1N1) flu is ten times more dangerous to children than seasonal flu, a large-scale study in Argentina has found. In a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month (23 December), researchers analysed the impact of pandemic flu on children in Buenos Aires between May and July 2009.

Japanese researchers have analysed the three-dimensional structures of proteins to look at how antibodies developed in response to infection by the 1918 flu pandemic played a role in immunity to A(H1N1). Their research, published online in PLoS One this month (1 January), provides insight into how future changes in antibody production during the evolution of A(H1N1) will impact humans.

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