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First U.S. Clinical Trials of Bird Flu Vaccine in Progress

The deaths of more than 30 people in Asia, and the death and destruction of millions of chickens on poultry farms in Asia and parts of the United States, have health officials worried that the day may be near when a strain of bird flu will not only jump from birds to humans, but will be transmissible between people. In light of this growing threat, researchers are attempting to develop vaccines that will help stop such a virus from winding a potentially pandemic path.

One such experimental vaccine has recently been tested in volunteers by NIAID-supported researchers John Treanor, M.D., director of the University of Rochester's Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, Rochester, NY, and Robert L. Atmar, M.D., an investigator in Baylor College of Medicine's Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, Houston, TX.

The experimental vaccine is designed to protect people against a bird flu strain that carries the H9 antigen, such as the strain that infected several children in Hong Kong in 1999 and 2003.

The vaccine's target is different from the bird flu strain that took Asia by storm in early 2004. That deadly strain, known as H5N1, mutates rapidly and is quick to pick up genes from other flu strains, so it has a high likelihood of jumping to another species. In the United States, poultry in some states were infected with H7N2, H2N2, and H5N2 strains in 2004. The strains have not infected any people in the United States.

In addition to the H9 vaccine, vaccines against other bird flu strains are being developed by NIAID researchers Kanta Subbarao, M.D., and Robert Webster, Ph.D., among others. In May 2004, NIAID awarded two contracts for the development of vaccines against the H5N1 virus. Clinical trials on those vaccines are likely to begin later this year.

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Last Updated August 24, 2010