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  • Swine flu science update: 28 August 2009

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A nanotechnology injection that could cut the dose of the swine flu — influenza A (H1N1) — vaccine by up to four times has been developed by an Israeli company.

The micro-needle targets immune cells in the skin, which appears to explain its efficacy, AZoNano.com reported this month (13 August). Initial research on the micro-needle, published in Vaccine (January 2009), used seasonal flu vaccine but NanoPass Technologies says tests are now being designed for A(H1N1) vaccine.

If these tests are successful, health authorities could vaccinate up to triple the number of patients from the same vaccine stock.

Vaccine manufacturers are struggling to get the virus to grow in chicken eggs — the usual method of developing flu vaccine. New Scientist reported this month (20 August) that even the best-growing strains of the virus are growing at half the rate of ordinary flu vaccine strains.

But researchers at New York Medical College's Valhalla campus have created improved strains by growing one virus sample repeatedly in chicken eggs until it adapted and grew faster. Samples will be sent to vaccine manufacturers.

A universal vaccine that could put an end to all influenza could be in trials as early as September, according to New Scientist (20 August). Rather than focusing on the parts of the virus that change year on year, such a vaccine would contain highly-conserved proteins shared by all types of flu virus.

Three companies are currently conducting human safety trials on vaccines that provoke a reaction to part of the most promising candidate protein — M2.

There has been worldwide debate on who should receive the A(H1N1) vaccine first once it becomes available but US researchers writing in Science (20 August) say they firmly believe health authorities will save more lives if they initially target children, who are often responsible for transmission, and their parents, who serve as bridges to the rest of the population.

Reuters reported this week (25 August) that Asia will be seriously short of A(H1N1) vaccine when its winter hits later in the year. Australia and China will soon begin making vaccine but this will almost certainly be used domestically, said WHO spokesperson Peter Cordingley.

Earlier this month (15 August), the WHO hosted a conference for Sub-Saharan Africa on pandemic flu. WHO regional director for Africa, Luis Gomes Sambo, told online news agency Health-e that the full impact of A(H1N1) in African populations was "yet to be seen".

The flu virus has now spread to isolated Amazon Indians. Survival International, a nongovernmental organisation that supports tribal people, says experts fear "devastating" transmission rates among people with little immunity to outside diseases.

The US Public Library of Science (PLoS) has launched PLoS Currents — a rapid communication website of research results and ideas — and the first topic to come under scrutiny is influenza.

French researchers have found that about half of people who have died from swine flu have been pregnant or had other health conditions, Reuters reported last week (20 August). The team from the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance also said the elderly were more likely than others to die if they became infected.

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