Health Alert: Bird flu vaccine - - Columbia, South Carolina

Health Alert: Bird flu vaccine

(National) May 16, 2005 - Heather Graham is taking part in the new bird flu vaccine study. She doesn't know if she received the real vaccine or a placebo. "It's very possible that I could develop an immunity to it," she explains, "And it's very possible that I won't." A sample of her blood will show if, and when, she develops antibodies to fight the flu.

"We know what level of antibody could protect you against regular flu, and we think similar levels of antibody might protect you against bird flu as well."

The experimental vaccine is made in the US and grown in eggs like human flu vaccines. It contains H5N1, the current lethal strain of bird flu from a patient in Vietnam.

"Somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the people that have become infected in Asia have died, so at this point that's the highest mortality ever seen with an influenza virus," said Heather.

Most cases in Asia involve direct contact with infected birds. However, officials are looking into recent reports of "probable" human-to human transmission.

"It's not easily transmitted person to person. If that were to occur, and the mortality were to stay high, it would be a terrible pandemic." Experts say a pandemic could move quickly, and an effective vaccine is critical. "The typical road to licensure takes years, if the pandemic were to come, things would speed up," adds Graham.

"It seems sort of remote because it's happening over in Asia," says Graham. "But just like with the SARS virus, it was brought to, you know, various countries in the world. It's, it's scary."

The vaccine is being tested at the University of Maryland Medical Center and two other sites. Researchers could know if the vaccine is effective by next February.

Posted 3:52pm by Bryce Mursch

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