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  • Swine flu science update: 5 June 2009


The global spread of the swine flu — influenza virus A(H1N1) — virus shows no sign of slowing as Africa reported its first confirmed case, in Egypt, this week.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security and environment, said the agency was close to declaring a 'phase six' pandemic alert — a fully-fledged pandemic where community spread is established outside the first region where the disease was reported.

In a telephone press conference last week (28 May), Anne Schuchat — interim deputy director for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Science and Public Health Program — confirmed the CDC had shipped candidate virus strains to several different manufacturers for the production of a vaccine.

"Manufacturers involved in developing and producing the novel H1N1 vaccine will start the process by producing candidate lots in the coming weeks," Schuchat said. But she warned that a vaccine was likely to be ready only by October because clinical trials would need to be completed first.

BBC Online reported last week (28 May) that scientists have produced a viral strain that can be used to make a vaccine against swine flu.

Stephen Inglis, director of the UK-based National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, said their scientists had been "working around the clock" since they received the first isolate of swine flu from colleagues in the United States at the beginning of May.

"The strain is now available for supply to vaccine manufacturers so that they can begin the first steps in the vaccine production process, and to other flu laboratories around the world for research."

But Nature questioned this week (3 June) how much vaccine developing countries would receive.

"The picture here isn't bright … The WHO is trying to negotiate for ten per cent of global production to be set aside for developing countries. If, for example, 860 million doses are available by Christmas, that would mean just 86 million doses; if two doses were needed per person, it will be only enough for 43 million people," reporter Declan Butler wrote.

Elsewhere, New Scientist reports a scheme to help poor countries meet the UN's Convention on Civil Aviation, which requires nations to "prevent the spread of communicable diseases by means of air navigation".

The scheme aims to assist airports in developing nations to prepare for a pandemic. Existing measures include managing infected passengers but also in the pipeline is software to enable airport authorities to detect someone with a sickly cough by analysing patterns in their coughing frequency using networks of microphones installed in airports.

Coughers can be identified and then checked for infection, says the article.

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