Bird Flu (cont.)

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Is there a bird flu vaccine?

A vaccine has been developed and approved by the FDA to protect humans against the H5N1 bird flu virus. The vaccine is not available to the public at this time because the U.S. population has not experienced any bird flu outbreaks. It is unlikely that the H5N1 vaccine will offer protection against H7N9 bird flu. There is some concern that the inactivated viral vaccine preparation (killed H5N1 viruses) may not be as effective as predicted if the virus continues to mutate. The standard flu vaccine developed each year does not protect against H5N1 or H7N9 bird flu. Currently, the NIH is testing an experimental vaccine against H7N9, but initial results are not expected until late in 2014.

Researchers are currently developing new ways to create flu vaccines that can be rapidly prepared and may give people immunity to a wide range of influenza viruses; these new vaccines (some based on the conserved internal viral proteins) may be available in a few years. A 2013 publication on bird flu vaccine development showed some success in protecting research animals against viruses with the N9 antigen, but it has not been tried in humans,

New and more rapid vaccine development is becoming available; the FDA recently approved (January 2013) a recombinant vaccine (Flublok) that does not use the tedious and time-consuming egg inoculation method for treating seasonal influenza. In the very near future, perhaps with H7N9, researchers may be able to produce a safe and effective vaccine very quickly in large amounts that can be administered if needed to large populations to prevent pandemics.

Bird flu research controversy

Most articles do not have this section but it is included to give the reader some insight into the problems and dangers of biologic research that may affect their lives. In 2011, at least two major research laboratories (in the U.S. and the Netherlands), while trying to predict what genetic changes needed to occur in avian flu to make the virus easily transmissible to humans, developed a highly lethal bird virus strain that was easily transmissible to ferrets. Unfortunately, for humans, this lab strain could likely be easily transmissible to humans by "mistake" since spontaneous transfer of the swine flu (H1N1) has been documented to occur between humans and ferrets in nature (pet ferrets caught H1N1 from humans).

Although this lab strain gives researchers a fine model to study viral genetics and viral transmission, many researchers, clinicians, bio-warfare experts, and many others consider such work to be highly dangerous because of the potential, however slight, for the virus to escape the lab by mistake or worse, that terrorists could use the published data to create a biological weapon. Consequently, publication of the data about this potentially lethal strain was delayed until there was some agreement in the worldwide scientific community about how to proceed. This delay was not only for publication but extends to further research work on the viral genome. The work on person-to-person transmission genetics is a major area of concern. An expert panel composed of WHO consultants decided that the data should be published and most of it was. How the research will progress is still not clear. What can be done with H1N1 viruses is possible to do with bird flu viruses; such modifications of H5N1 or H7N9 bird flu could have devastating human consequences if no vaccine becomes readily available.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/10/2014