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‘Explosion’ Of H1N1 Cases Likely In Coming Months, WHO Says

In the coming months, countries should prepare for an “explosion” in new cases of H1N1 (swine) flu until peak transmission of the virus is reached, WHO Western Pacific Director Shin Young-soo told a symposium of health officials gathered in Beijing Friday, the Associated Press reports. “[I]t is in developing countries where the accelerated spread of swine flu poses the greatest threat as it places underequipped and underfunded health systems under severe strain, Shin said,” the news service writes. He encouraged the swift action of governments “to educate the public, prepare their health systems to care for severe cases and protect those deemed more vulnerable to prevent unnecessary deaths,” according to the AP (Wong, 8/20).

Study Calls U.S. H1N1 Vaccine Strategy Into Question

In related news, a Science study released Thursday suggests that contrary to the current U.S. plans for distributing the H1N1 vaccine, “targeting vaccines to school-age children and their parents could help manage potential outbreaks of swine and seasonal flu and avert worrisome vaccine shortages,” Agence France-Presse reports (Santini, 8/20).

Using a mathematical model to test multiple vaccination strategies, Clemson University and Yale researchers predicted “if vaccine doses were first distributed to children between age 5 and 19 and to adults age 30 to 39, there would be 15 million fewer infections and 31,000 fewer deaths,” the Los Angeles Times’ blog, “Booster Shots” writes. The researchers calculated that their strategy would save $14 billion, the blog adds (Kaplan, 8/20).

Reuters adds: “Such an approach could stop the spread of a flu with just 63 million doses of vaccine, they said.” While “U.S. health advisers have targeted 160 million people to be first to get vaccinated against the new pandemic H1N1 flu starting in October … Each person will likely need two doses and only 45 million doses will be ready by then, so officials must prioritize” (Steenhuysen, 8/20).

Nature News: “CDC spokesman Tom Skinner says that the agency will closely consider the model’s findings, but doesn’t plan to adjust its guidelines. ‘Our immunization recommendations really are not based on one single model,’ he says. ‘Models are based on many assumptions. They can be a helpful tool for identifying possibilities, but it’s really not possible to know how any specific model might play out'” (Dolgin, 8/20).

In related news, NPR interviews Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, together with science correspondent Richard Knox, to share some perspective on the ongoing worldwide fight against H1N1 in light of the first International Swine Flu Conference in D.C. this week (Martin, 8/20).

IRIN Examines How Living Conditions In Bangladesh Make Population More Vulnerable to H1N1

IRIN examines how conditions in Dhaka, Bangladesh — “one of the most densely populated cities in the world” – will increase the population’s vulnerability to H1N1. Of greatest concern is the rapid movement of H1N1 through Dhaka’s slums, where “3.4 million of Dhaka’s 12 million people” live.

“Speaking at an inter-ministerial meeting in the capital on 20 August, Secretary of Health Shaikh Altaf Ali voiced his concern over treatment capacities currently available in Dhaka,” IRIN writes. “Current facilities may not be sufficient to cope with a large-scale pandemic, he said” (8/21).

Zimbabwe Confirms First Cases Of H1N1

Zimbabwean health officials reported the country’s first confirmed cases of H1N1 Thursday, according to ZimOnline. The cases were confirmed among five children in “Mutare city near the border with Mozambique,” the news service writes (Sibanda, 8/20).

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