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    Old vaccine has new tricks

    St. Jude vaccine offers cross-protection in ferrets against different variants of H5N1, suggesting it could be stockpiled for use in the event of a human outbreak.

    Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have announced that a vaccine they developed a few years ago against one variant of the bird flu virus H5N1 may protect humans against future variants of the virus. Vaccines based on this model might therefore be suitable for stockpiling for use during a pandemic (worldwide epidemic) until a new vaccine could be developed specifically against the variant causing the outbreak, the researchers said.

    A prepublication report on the study appears in the online issue of Journal of Infectious Diseases (JID).

    The researchers showed that the vaccine completely protected ferrets from a lethal nasal infection against not only the original virus the vaccine was made to thwart, but also against a newer variant that has already proved fatal to humans. The vaccine significantly limited virus multiplication and prevented infections from spreading out of the upper respiratory tract to the lungs or brain.

    “These findings are significant because ferrets are an excellent and accurate model of influenza infection and immune response in humans,” said Elena Govorkova, Ph.D., a staff scientist in the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude and lead author. “Restricting the infection to the upper respiratory tract is important because limiting the spread of virus in an infected human is crucial to saving that person’s life.”

    Other authors of the study include Richard Webby, Jennifer Humberd and Jon Seiler, all of St. Jude.

    This work was supported in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health and ALSAC.

    Last update: June 2006

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