U.S. health officials briefing Congress on Wednesday would not outline a timeframe for when enough H1N1 (swine flu) vaccines would be available to reach all high-risk populations in the country, the Washington Post reports.
Pneumonia & Flu
“Two million of the world’s poorest children could be saved by introducing routine vaccination programs against diarrhea and pneumonia,” according to a new report (.pdf) from UNICEF, BBC News reports (6/8). “Pneumonia and diarrhea account for nearly one-third of the deaths among children under five globally,” the Guardian writes, adding, “Nearly 90 percent of deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia” (Tran, 6/8). The report “identifies a tremendous opportunity to narrow the child survival gap both among and within countries by increasing commitment, attention and funding,” according to a press release from UNICEF (6/8).
Noting that the journal Science last week published the second of two controversial bird flu research papers, in which a team led by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam created a mutated strain of the virus that spreads easily among ferrets, a Washington Post editorial writes that “this is not the end of the story. Rather, it marks the beginning of an important chapter for both science and security.” The editorial continues, “The United States and other nations need a more sophisticated process for vetting research for possible security threats without discouraging or impairing scientists,” adding, “This is more difficult than it sounds.”
Congressman 'Dissatisfied' With Handling Of Controversial H5N1 Papers Calls For Cohesive Policy For Handling 'Risky' Research
“[D]issatisfied with the government’s handling of two research papers on mutant forms of avian influenza,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) on Wednesday “said that the lack of a cohesive policy for handling risky research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies could necessitate new laws, a situation that researchers have been trying to avoid,” the Nature News Blog reports. “The second of the controversial papers showing that H5N1, or ‘bird flu,’ can spread through the air between mammals was published last week, providing some closure to the months-long debate about the work and whether its publication would result in the proliferation of dangerous viruses and increased risk of an accidental or intentional release,” the blog writes, adding, “Sensenbrenner says not enough work has been done to ensure that such controversies don’t arise again.”
The U.S. journal Science on Thursday published the results of a controversial study in which researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands “identified five mutations apparently necessary to make the [H5N1] bird flu virus spread easily among ferrets, which catch the same flus that humans do,” the New York Times reports (McNeil, 6/21). “The publication of [the] research had been delayed by several months after the U.S. government’s National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) warned that the information should be censored to avoid being misused, for example by terrorists,” the Guardian writes, noting, “Last month, Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published details of another form of the bird flu virus that can pass between people, which was created by merging a mutated strain with the swine flu virus that sparked a human pandemic in 2009” (Jha, 6/21).
“It’s easy to get the impression that [recent controversy over research into mutated versions of the H5N1 flu virus] has created a clear split between a scientific community that wants the research to proceed and the results to be published and a biosecurity community that doesn’t,” biological-weapons expert Tim Trevan writes in this Nature opinion piece. But “[a]s a member of this biosecurity community for more than 30 years — I was special adviser to the chairman of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq and covered chemical and biological disarmament with the U.K. Foreign Office in both London and Geneva, Switzerland — I believe this to be a false dichotomy,” he states.
Interventions Aimed At Preventing, Treating Pneumonia In Children Need To Be Expanded In Developing World
“This month, USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) joins countries around the world in celebrating International Children’s Day,” Dyness Kasungami, a child health team leader for MCHIP, writes in the Huffington Post Blog, adding, “While great strides in child survival have been made in the past years, we also remember those children who do not live to see their fifth birthday — the 7.6 million children who die of preventable causes each year.” She notes, “Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under five, killing 1.4 million children each year, more than tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria combined,” and continues, “Children can be protected from pneumonia through behavioral interventions such as adequate nutrition during childhood, hand washing, and reducing indoor air pollution by using improved, well-ventilated stoves.”
“Preventable childhood deaths caused by illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea can be nearly eliminated in 10 years,” researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the National Institutes of Health write in a new commentary featured in the June issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,” a Johns Hopkins press release reports. In the commentary, “researchers outline a strategy and benchmarks for curbing childhood preventable deaths and recommend a new common vision for a global commitment to end all preventable child deaths,” the press release notes (6/14).
Number Of Fatalities From 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic Might Have Been 15 Times Higher Than Reported Deaths, Study Says
In a study published on Monday in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic likely killed about 284,500 people worldwide between August 2009 and August 2010, a number 15 times higher than the 18,500 deaths reported to the WHO, Bloomberg News reports. “More than half the deaths may have been in southeast Asia and Africa, compared with 12 percent of officially reported fatalities, the authors wrote,” the news agency states (Bennett, 6/25). The reported cases “were only the deaths confirmed by lab testing, which the WHO itself warned was a gross underestimate because the deaths of people without access to the health system go uncounted, and because the virus is not always detectable after a victim dies,” Reuters writes (Begley, 6/25).
The New York Times examines several studies published in the journals Nature and Science looking at how the H5N1 bird flu virus could mutate to become more virulent among humans and outlines the history of controversy surrounding the studies. “While scientists have offered two possible ways in which H5N1 might become a human flu, they’re almost certainly not the only two,” the newspaper writes, adding, “There is no checklist of mutations that any bird flu must acquire to start infecting humans.” According to the newspaper, “Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, hopes scientists will be able to amass a longer list of potential mutations, and even find a common denominator in how they alter H5N1,” which might make it “possible to monitor emerging strains for signs that they are about to cross over into humans” (Zimmer, 6/25).