Monday, April 03, 2006

The Birds, or One Flew Over Kuckuck's Nest

Travel bans won't stop bird flu-study
(03 Apr 2006 22:08:40 GMT)

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON, April 3 (Reuters) - Travel restrictions and school closures will do little to stop a pandemic of bird flu from marching across the United States, but they may slow it enough to distribute drugs and vaccines, according to a new study published on Monday.

"It's probably not going to be practical to contain a potential pandemic by merely trying to limit contact between people such as by travel restrictions, quarantine or even closing schools," said Timothy Germann of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, who worked on the report.

"But we find that these measures are useful in buying time to produce and distribute sufficient quantities of vaccine and antiviral drugs."

Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supports the approach being pursued by the U.S. government and recommended by the World Health Organization for preparing for a possible influenza pandemic.

"Our model suggests that the rapid production and distribution of vaccines, even if poorly matched to circulating strains, could significantly slow disease spread and limit the number ill to less than 10 percent of the population, particularly if children are preferentially vaccinated," the team at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Washington wrote.

Catherine Macken of Los Alamos said the computer model used in the study provided a surprising finding -- using a weak vaccine in many people would be better than trying to vaccinate a smaller number of people with a more effective dose.

"If you reduce somewhat the length of time that someone is infective ... you end up getting a significant impact," Macken said in a telephone interview.

"You might be better off vaccinating twice as many people, getting a lower level of protection, but still getting an improvement in susceptibility."

No flu vaccine is perfect and experts have been uncertain which approach would work better.


Using several million doses of drugs like Roche AG's Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza that can help prevent influenza infection could also help, the researchers said.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza is spreading rapidly in birds around the world and experts believe it will soon be found everywhere. It rarely infects people, but has sickened 190 people and killed 107 of them, according to WHO.

If the virus mutates slightly and gains the ability to pass from person to person easily, it is likely to become much less fatal but could cause a pandemic.

Scientists are racing to make a vaccine against it and governments are trying to stockpile drugs that can prevent and treat the infection, but supplies are low.

In the meantime, health experts are trying to work out the best way to deal with a pandemic if it comes, and want to know if schools, businesses and transportation should be closed to try to slow the flu's spread.

The team at Los Alamos and the University of Washington ran a complex computer simulation of what the spread of bird flu might look like in the United States. They say their findings would hold for any highly mobile society.

"In the event that a pandemic influenza virus does reach the U.S., according to our results, the U.S. population could begin to experience a nation-wide pandemic within 1 month of the earliest introductions," the researchers wrote.

The model assumes that about a third of the population would become infected -- the rate seen in the past two pandemics, in 1957 and 1968.

They included several circumstances for people to meet and potentially pass the virus along, including households, neighborhoods, preschools, playgroups, schools, shops and work.

-----and there's more-----

Vaccine best way to counter bird flu, even if imperfect


WASHINGTON (Associated Press) — The most effective way to combat an outbreak of bird flu in people would require a rapid and aggressive vaccination campaign as soon as the outbreak began, even if the vaccine wasn't a perfect match, a study concludes.

Flu viruses are constantly changing, and a vaccine aimed at a specific strain can't be developed until scientists identify the form infecting humans. That's why the annual human flu shots must be updated every year.

But even a bird flu vaccine that is poorly matched to the form that breaks out would be likely to provide some protection and could help slow the spread of the disease, according to a research team headed by Timothy C. Germann of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Full Story

-----and there's even more-----

U.S. Not Ready for Fast-Spreading Bird Flu, Study Finds

John Roach
for National Geographic News
April 3, 2006

Scientists have used a sophisticated computer model to predict how a deadly flu virus might spread through the United States, and how the disease might respond to efforts to contain it.

The results suggest that the U.S. is prepared to contain a virus with low transmissibility but perhaps not one that spreads more quickly.

Another team of scientists has also reported that it has developed a preliminary human vaccine against bird flu. But the team acknowledges that more work is needed before the vaccine could successfully contain an outbreak.

Many scientists believe the threat of a bird flu pandemic is real. Researchers are particularly concerned that the virus currently spreading around the world—the highly pathogenic avian flu strain H5N1—might mutate, allowing it to be transmitted between humans.

If such a mutation were to occur, the result could be a global pandemic similar to that of the 1918 "Spanish flu," which killed an estimated 20 to 40 million people worldwide.

"It's still up in the air how readily H5N1 can become human-to-human, but almost certainly there will be another pandemic at some point," said Timothy Germann, a chemical physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Germann led the team that developed the computer model.

Full Story


So who says Los Alamos is only good for Pu pits?

{{It's probably not going to be practical to contain a potential pandemic by merely trying to limit contact between people such as by travel restrictions, quarantine or even closing schools}}

Thought we were too much advanced a society to quarantine dangerous epidemics.

In our day we must show we are not afraid by embracing the infected, holding rallies to show unity with them, encouraging and endorsing special behaviors that transfer the infection, assigning beautiful natural symbols and happy words to them to show how fine and good the dangerous behaviors are, and publicly railing against the callousness of those who call for caution.

We fund hugely-expensive post-infection treatment to prolong the illness, and call for enormous research programs to cure an infectious disease that is transmitted by a narrow range of behaviors.

So, why would we even think that behavior modification and quarantine should even be considered for the bird flu? Rather, for consistency, let us invite our feathered friends into our embrace, while we spend our national treasure on developing drugs and vaccines to counter the infection.
Sounds like AIDS to me.
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