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H1N1 Death Toll Doubles Over Last Month; First Vaccine Trial Begins

The worldwide death toll from the H1N1 (swine flu) virus has doubled in the past month, reaching over 700, the WHO announced Tuesday, the AP/Google.com reports. “WHO did not give a breakdown of the deaths Tuesday. But as of last week, the U.S. reported 263 deaths, Canada reported 45 deaths and Britain had 29. According to WHO’s last update on July 6, there were 119 deaths in Mexico,” the news service writes. “Yet even Tuesday’s figure of 700 deaths may seriously underestimate the true toll, experts say, because not all swine flu cases are being picked up due to testing limitations” (Jordans, 7/21).

“The H1N1 virus has spread around the world with unprecedented speed, according to the WHO,” CNN writes. “Past influenza viruses have needed more than six months to spread as widely as the current H1N1 virus has spread in less than six weeks, it said” (7/21).

The first human trials of an H1N1 vaccine kicked off this week in Australia, drug company officials said Wednesday, the AP/Washington Post reports. “Two biotechnology companies have started injecting adult volunteers in the southern city of Adelaide with their vaccines. Adelaide-based Vaxine began trials Monday with 300 subjects, and Melbourne’s CSL has 240 people in its seven-month trial, which started Wednesday,” the news service writes. Whereas CSL “expects that initial results will allow distribution of its government-funded vaccine in October,” a Vaxine representative said it will take between six and eight weeks before it knows if its H1N1 vaccine is effective (Smith, 7/22).

Reporting on the clinical trials taking place at CSL, CNN writes that healthy adults, ages 18 to 64, “will receive two shots three weeks apart and will undergo blood tests to determine if they are generating an appropriate immune response to the virus, the company said” (7/21).

According to the AFP/Google.com, children and adults will be participating in the H1N1 vaccine trials. Also in Australia, “a 19-year-old Aboriginal woman with swine flu lost her unborn child, prompting warnings by Australian authorities to expectant mothers to avoid crowds and protect themselves with flu shots.” The article includes reports from medical professionals about the growing pressure at hospitals to keep up with the new H1N1 cases (Harris, 7/22).

The AP/Google.com examines measures taken around the world to stop the rapid spread of H1N1, such as China’s decision to quarantine “any visitor suspected of having a fever” and the banning of New Zealand priests “from placing Communion wafers on worshippers’ tongues” (Jordans [2], 7/21).

Time reports on how the Northern hemisphere is preparing for the return of the H1N1 flu in the fall, after a study published in the journal Lancet “found that closing schools as a preventive measure in the early stages of a pandemic could sharply cut the number of cases initially, which would reduce the later surges of infections that can overwhelm hospitals,” but at an economic cost, the magazine writes (Walsh, 7/22).

HealthDay News/Forbes compares U.S. plans for a mass H1N1 vaccination campaign this fall to the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign that “backfired – badly” (7/21).

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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.