New Research Could Be Key to Treating and Preventing a Pandemic

No Pandemic Yet

So far, the bird flu, also known as H5N1, has not turned in to the pandemic it was first feared to be a couple of years ago. This doesn’t mean the danger is over. As the many recent recalls of food products due to such things as E-coli or the tainted pet food ordeal that lingers on have proven, we are vulnerable to a global food chain that can become quickly and quietly contaminated and deadly.

Fears of a flu pandemic spreading like wildfire are not unfounded in this global society. As we saw with SARS just a few years ago, unsuspecting travelers were exposed, and then exposed others, as they jetted in and out of airports in a matter of a few hours. Shortly they were exhibiting symptoms and far from the source.

The world’s supply of antibiotics such as Cipro was significantly challenged and the fear of a SARS pandemic loomed. Organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched into a full blown investigation and a worldwide crisis was avoided. This was a great lesson in how to avoid a flu pandemic, and the fact that the Bird Flu has been held to the level it has is due in part to this lesson.

Research Shows Good News

Some good news has emerged that may further keep the Bird Flu in check. After four Vietnamese adults who had survived the Bird Flu in 2004 agreed to donate blood for testing purposes, researchers were able to develop antibodies from the blood samples. In testing on mice, the antibodies given to the infected mice helped them to survive the 2004 strain of H5N1 as well as a different strain from 2005. The same antibodies given to mice that were exposed but not infected, were protected from the virus by these antibodies.

This process is known as passive immunotherapy. In 1918, during the worst flu pandemic in history, some doctors used passive immunotherapy in direct transfusions from flu survivors to those who were newly infected. In many cases they were successful with this therapy.

Today, this process is much more complex and safe. Antibody-producing cells are culled from the blood of the survivors and encouraged to multiply in the laboratory. Then the antibodies are purified to enhance their ability to target the virus. In the first tests, the success on mice shows a distinct possibility that this process could prove to be beneficial in protecting against and treating H5N1 Bird Flu. Much more work is needed before human testing can begin.

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