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  • Swine flu science update: 7 August 2009


Africa could be hardest hit by the swine flu — influenza A(H1N1) — pandemic through a combination of scarce laboratory capacity, poor surveillance and a lack of information about influenza's severity and spread on the continent, says an article in Science.

The virus has been detected in 19 African countries so far but influenza is not high on most African countries' agendas. Although H5N1 bird flu led to increased diagnostic and surveillance capacity in some countries, many still have no capacity and surveillance efforts cover just a fraction of the continent.

Factoring in vulnerable public health systems, the death toll is bound to be higher, says Jean-Claude Manuguerra of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, and we may never know by how much.

Other countries in the Southern Hemisphere, such as South Africa, have given up trying to contain the virus and are working to ensure their health systems can cope.

Health authorities in Argentina, which has recorded the most swine flu deaths after the United States, have stopped publishing a death toll and announced that after the end of the flu season in a month, all influenza would be assumed to be A(H1N1), the Canadian Broadcasting Centre reported.

Researchers from organisations including the US-based Columbia University and Argentina's National Institute of Infectious Diseases reported last week (30 July), that they were comparing the genetic sequences of A(H1N1) from Argentinean patients with severe respiratory disease with those from other parts of the world to determine if the virus is different.

Elsewhere, an article in Nature this week (5 August) describes how researchers can use computational models to look at how the behaviour of individuals — or 'agents' — can affect virus spread.

Author Joshua M. Epstein, from the Brookings Institute in the United States — where researchers have created such a model for A(H1N1) — write that behaviour, driven by emotions like fear, could have "a huge effect" on disease progression.

Research published in The Lancet last week (29 July) suggests that pregnant women are at increased risk of complications from the A(H1N1) virus such as pneumonia and respiratory problems and should be promptly treated with anti-influenza drugs.

The WHO announced yesterday (6 August) that vaccine would be ready for use in some countries as early as September, according to Reuters. Marie-Paule Kieny, director of the WHO Initiative for Vaccine Research, also said that vaccine yields were improving after initial problems with virus growth.

India's homegrown vaccine should be ready by the end of September, manufacturers have told the health ministry, according to the Times of India. Three Indian manufacturers have used 'seed' virus made by the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to produce a vaccine.

The German Press Agency reported that Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, began trials of its vaccine at the end of July and was expected to recruit 6,000 people for testing.

And Australia began human trials for vaccine in mid-July, AFP reports. The trials are being conducted at Australia's Royal Adelaide Hospital and involve 240 adults and 400 children.

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