News & Current Affairs

August 18, 2008

Bird flu hopes from 1918 victims

Bird flu hopes from 1918 victims

UK doctors, army officers, and reporters during the 1918 outbreak

The flu outbreak of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people

Survivors of the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic are still protected from the virus, according to researchers in the US.

American scientists found that people who lived through the outbreak can still produce antibodies that kill the deadly strain of the H1N1 flu.

The study, published in the journal Nature, could help develop emergency treatments for future outbreaks.

The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people.

Elderly volunteers

Some experts say it was the most devastating epidemic in history, affecting even healthy adults.

Scientists do not fully understand why it was so lethal – but they fear a new pandemic, once again triggered by bird flu, could be just as deadly.

But now researchers have come up with a new way of tackling such an outbreak.

They studied 32 people who lived through the 1918 flu, and found all still had antibodies in their blood to destroy the virus.

Some of the volunteers – aged from 91 to 101 – even had the cells which produce the antibodies.

The researchers used the antibodies to cure infected mice – showing, they said, that 90 years on, the survivors of the epidemic were still protected.

The antibodies were particularly powerful – so that only a small amount was needed to kill off the virus.

Dr James Crowe, of Vanderbilt University, who helped lead the study, said similar antibodies could be developed to destroy new strains of bird flu.

August 14, 2008

Hope over ‘quick’ bird flu test

Hope over ‘quick’ bird flu test

Avian flu virus

Bird flu cannot easily infect humans at present

UK scientists say they are developing a portable testing machine that will detect cases of bird flu in two hours.

Currently it takes about a week to identify the different flu strains because laboratory tests are needed.

Nottingham Trent University developers say their equipment is designed to be used at the scene of a suspected outbreak or taken to a patient.

It will enable them to identify strains lethal to humans far quicker, potentially saving lives, they say.

In Indonesia there has been an 81% death rate among people with the H5N1 strain, but survival chances increase greatly the earlier it is treated.

So far, tens of millions of birds have died or been slaughtered as a result of bird flu in Asia and beyond.

At the moment, the H5N1 strain, while highly infectious among poultry, is not easily passed to humans, and cannot be passed from human to human.

Mutation fear

Scientists fear that a strain of bird flu, possibly H5N1, could eventually mutate and cross the “species barrier”.

It could then gain the ability to pass easily from person to person and perhaps lead to a dangerous global pandemic, they fear.

Once it does manage to infect a human, H5N1 is usually a killer.

In Indonesia, one of the worst-affected countries, 102 people, mostly those in close contact with infected poultry, have fallen ill, with four out of five dying.

One of the problems is that the early symptoms, such as cough and fever, are shared by other, common infections, delaying diagnosis.

Research published in The Lancet medical journal suggested that development of better diagnostic methods, and better ways of looking after patients could improve their chances.

If identified within a few days, H5N1 can be treated using anti-viral drugs and the chances of survival increase significantly.

UK experts have called for a national surveillance programme to detect H5N1 cases in Indonesians.

Saliva test

However, Dr Alan McNally, from Nottingham Trent University, believes his technology could make a difference.

All that is needed is a swab of saliva from a patient’s mouth, and it can detect molecules specific to H5N1 or other bird flu strains.

Dr McNally said: “There’s a large train of thought that one of the best ways of dealing with avian influenza is by detection and containment.

“The ability to detect and type the influenza virus immediately is essential in setting up controls as quickly as possible to minimize the spread of any potential pandemic virus.”

The £2.3m project, which hopes to come up with a version of the machine that can fit within a briefcase, is being funded by the European Union.

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