It is a very interesting phenomenon, in the annals of influenza viruses, that avian H5N1 just keeps rolling on, and on, and on. It was already the longest-lasting and most serious animal pandemic several years ago, and has caused immense economic damage. And now – it seems to just get worse. From Vaccine Nation:
H5N1 kills up to 60% of the people it infects. It has resurfaced in recent months, most notably in Cambodia where it has infected eight people this year, killing all of them.
Reuters report that the call came after the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Monday of a possible resurgence of bird flu and said a mutant strain of the H5N1 was spreading in Asia and beyond.
While scientists are uncertain if this new strain — called H5N1-184.108.40.206 — is more virulent in people, they said it was different enough from its predecessor to escape a human H5N1 vaccine that can tackle the parent strain.
I have blogged a lot on influenza viruses and their vaccines – search this site via the facility to your right! – and I can only reiterate what I have said a few times already: we really, really need to have some way of rapidly responding to emerging flu viruses, including new and nasty variants of H5N1.
And a very good way of doing that, given a VERY low barrier to entry in terms of manufacturing cost compared to conventional vaccines, is via plants. Several companies, including Medicago Inc, have embraced the use of transient expression in plants as a means of rapidly producing both seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines – and I will blog on that technology soon.
Meantime, let’s just hope the new technologies can keep pace with the evolution of the viruses they are aimed at combatting. And that someone will actually fund us to do something for our country!