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FDA Recommends H1N1 For Inclusion In Next Year’s Flu Vaccine

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday recommended that the H1N1 (swine flu) strain be added to next year’s seasonal flu vaccine, “putting an end to separate shots deployed against the pandemic,” Bloomberg reports. The FDA committee voted unanimously to make the H1N1 strain one of the three strains included in the shot, according to the news service. “The panel’s recommendations are routinely adopted and used to guide vaccine manufacturers,” Bloomberg writes (Randall, 2/22).

“The FDA panel recommendation follows a similar recommendation made last week by the World Health Organization for the Northern Hemisphere. Each year, the FDA must sign off on any strain changes and approve influenza vaccine made by various companies for the coming influenza season,” the Wall Street Journal reports (Corbett Dooren, 2/22).

In related news, the Washington Post examines how despite a decrease in H1N1 activity in the U.S., health officials have been unwilling to rule out the possibility H1N1 could emerge in a third or fourth wave in the future. The article examines the pattern of H1N1 in the U.S. and what it could mean for the likelihood of a future outbreak, as described by several infectious disease experts (Brown, 2/23).

Meanwhile, ahead of the WHO panel meeting Tuesday “that could begin the process of declaring an official end to the pandemic,” TIME examines the potential long-term threat from influenza. “[T]he close of the H1N1 pandemic does not eliminate the long-term threat from influenza,” the magazine writes. “Another pandemic could arise at any time, and a new paper published in the Feb. 22 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) demonstrates that it could even come from an existing flu virus that many of us have forgotten about: the H5N1 bird flu, which has infected 478 people in 15 countries since 2003, with 286 deaths – a fatality rate higher than 50%.”

In the study, researchers “combined a strain of the deadly H5N1 avian virus with strains of H3N2 human seasonal flu, creating 254 new, mutated viruses. By injecting them in lab mice, researchers found that some of the hybrid viruses were both deadly (like bird flu) and transmissible (like seasonal human flu) – the kind of genetically mutated superflu viruses that experts have been warning about for decades,” TIME writes. Though “H5N1 has not yet mutated into a more contagious form, despite having had plenty of chances to mix with human flu viruses … the PNAS study suggests that the potential exists,” and hints at what health officials should be looking for in H5N1 to tip off the virus is becoming more contagious (Walsh, 2/22).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.