Health Alert: Potential pandemic

NATIONAL - Scientists normally grow flu vaccines in fertilized chicken eggs, but what if there's a bird flu pandemic and the chickens are infected? There's a promising new egg alternative.

If the bird flu strikes, can a cold keep us from getting sick? Purdue researchers say it's possible, by using a cold 'virus' as a delivery system.

Suresh Mittal, a molecular virologist, says, "It takes some of the gene of the bird flu virus into the system and then produces a vaccine in the host."

Instead of making the vaccine eggs, our bodies become the factory, where the cold virus produces a protein that provides us with bird flu immunity.

It's easy and fast.

Mittal says, "Our strategy is a cell culture-based strategy. So cell culture-based strategy can be made quickly at short notice."

A cold-based vaccine could be mass produced and engineered to work against multiple flu strains.

Veterinary pathologist Leon Thacker says, "We can have immunity to one type of influenza and be totally susceptible to a different type. That's what makes the possibility of an H5N1 pandemic, give people reason for concern."

But researchers say the cold-based vaccine has a long shelf life and can be stockpiled now without knowing what the virus will look like down the road.

"A vaccine prepared today can be used for virus maybe getting mutated and may becoming a different virus next year or next year to that," said Mittal.

It's one way to stop the bird flu cold.

Having a vaccine to immunize millions on short notice may be more important than ever.

A recent study in the journal 'Emerging Infectious Diseases' confirms that the H5N1 bird flu has spread from person to person in Indonesia.

Posted by Bryce Mursch