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    "When many cures are offered for a disease, it means the disease is not curable" -Anton Chekhov

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    Monday, August 08, 2005

    Avian Flu, Dejavu: The vaccine against the bird flu which has killed many birds from the far to the near East, but only 50 people, all of whom caught it from birds - not people - has some people very excited:

    The United States could begin mass production of an experimental avian flu vaccine by this September.

    Tests have been conducted on 450 healthy adults. Results from 115 of those people have shown a high enough immune response to protect against the avian flu spreading amongst birds in Asia and now Russia.
    Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, hed of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Sunday that he expects the other 335 patients to show a good response too.

    On what basis does he make that assumption? And, it should be pointed out, that since so very few people have contracted Avian flu from birds, there's no way to test its actual effectiveness in preventing the disease. What the researchers have noticed is that there is a measurable increase in antibodies to the virus after administration of the vaccine. However, to become the scary threat everyone fears, the virus has to mutate from its present form. Who knows whether the vaccine will be effective against that form?

    There are other reasons to curb the enthusiasm. It hasn't been tested in children or the elderly, no one knows what the ideal dose is, or how long the immunity lasts. None the less, U.S. health officials are racing on:

    However, they have already ordered two million doses from a French manufacturer -- although those can't be changed if testing indicates the formulation should be changed.

    Last week, Mike Leavitt, the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary, said the U.S. federal government wants to stockpile 20 million doses of the vaccine.

    WHO officials are less enthused:

    A new human bird flu vaccine being tested in the US is a good step towards preventing a potential pandemic, but it shouldn't be mistaken for a 'silver bullet,' the World Health Organisation has said.

    'This is a good beginning,' Thompson said of the results. 'Is it perfect to produce? Is it the silver bullet? No, it's not, but it's a good start.'

    Perhaps some caution should be exercised before rushing to purchase millions of dollars of vaccine. Officials would do well to remember the lessons of the swine flu epidemic that wasn't.

    posted by Sydney on 8/08/2005 07:26:00 AM 0 comments


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