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March 29,
2004

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Vaccine study targets bird flu

Physicians at the University and Baylor University's College of Medicine are beginning the first test in the United States of a vaccine designed to protect people against one form of bird flu should an outbreak of the virus occur in humans.

While vaccines to protect against normal flu are widely used every year, there is currently no vaccine approved to protect against any of the more than a dozen forms of bird flu. The vaccine that Baylor and Rochester researchers are studying aims to protect people against a form of the virus, H9, which infected several people in Hong Kong in 1999.

The eight-month study is being done at the request of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funds a network of institutions to test new vaccines against diseases like flu, smallpox, and pneumonia. John Treanor, professor of medicine and director of Rochester's Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, is leading Rochester's portion of the study.

Nurses and doctors will enroll participants in the study during the next two months, and then for six months they'll closely monitor the participants, taking blood tests to check the immune response created by the vaccine.

While only about two dozen people worldwide have died in recent months after becoming infected with a strain of flu known as H5N1 that is normally found in birds, bird flu is seen as a potent threat to human health because of its potential to spread quickly through a human population.

"People generally haven't been exposed to bird flu viruses, so they have no immunity. A bird flu virus that acquired the ability to thrive in people could cause a severe epidemic," says Treanor.



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