Experimental Bird Flu Vaccine Looking Promising - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/07/06

Experimental Bird Flu Vaccine Looking Promising

The bird flu continues to spread around the world, this time in Scotland. Researchers confirmed yesterday a swan found dead in a pond did have the avian flu. The good news, no one came in contact with the bird.

The US isn't taking any chances. They're already testing a possible avian flu vaccine on humans. Researchers say they are moving closer to finding a vaccine that could combat the bird flu should it strike in the United States. The problem may lie in making sure there's enough of it for everyone.

The experimental bird flu vaccine was tested in 450 people at study sites like one at the University of Rochester. And in more than half of them, it worked.

"At highest doses, most people made antibodies in the blood which we would expect would be able to fight off the bird flu virus," reported Dr. John Treanor, the university's vaccine study director.

Volunteers were given two shots of 90 micrograms. That's several times larger than the conventional flu shot. The high dose needed is the one big drawback right now.

"The dose we would use would probably not be practical to administer to large numbers of people, because it would be so hard to make enough," said Dr. Treanor.

Still, it's good enough for the government, which is planning to produce and stockpile 8 million doses. Infectious disease experts like William Schaffner are relieved. "We should be very very happy," he said.

The vaccine, a first generation prototype, will need to be improved, he says. But in the face of what some say is the inevitability of a coming flu pandemic, having a vaccine that's even modestly effective is a major step toward preparedness. "I would anticipate that within two to three years we would have a vaccine that we're satisfied with," said Schaffner.

Experts did say while the avian flu continues to spread around the globe from bird to human. There are still no cases of the bird flu spreading from human to human.

Send your questions and comments on WTOC health reports to Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com.

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