Archive for September, 2011

There are plenty of good reasons to get a flu vaccination

Friday, September 30th, 2011 (last updated)

The issue: As flu season approaches, we learn that this year’s flu strain is the same as last year’s. Why get a shot?

Our opinion: This is a new year. It’s time to get vaccinated. It’s the smart thing to do. We can already hear the arguments: “But this year’s flu vaccine is the same as last year’s so we don’t have to get the shot this year.”

How wrong you would be.

We suspect the people who delight in fostering the many myths about the flu vaccine are cut from the same piece of cloth as those who warn us not wear our seat belts you know the rest: in case we’re in a fiery crash and need to escape in a hurry.

We’ll let some local experts have their day on this one.

“One shot is good enough for one flu season, but there is some evidence – depending on who it is and how substantial their immune system is – that a vaccine might not be effective beyond one flu season,” said Dr. Kenneth J. DeBenedictis, Reading Hospital director of epidemiology, infection control and prevention, in a Reading Eagle story. “In some individuals, their immunity will wane.”

Flu season in Berks County typically ramps up in December and winds down by March, agreed DeBenedictis and Dr. Robert S. Jones, chief of infectious diseases at both St. Joseph Medical Center and Reading Hospital.
It’s a safe vaccine and it is recommended that anyone older than 6 months get it, DeBenedictis said.

Pregnant mothers who are inoculated are also giving the vaccine to their unborn children, he said.

That’s important because flu can be a serious crisis for a newborn, he said.

Here’s another reason to get the vaccine.

A study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reinforces what many experts already knew: that vaccinating preschool-age children is in their best interest.

According to The New York Times, the U.S. began recommending influenza vaccinations for preschoolers in 2006 and for all children 6 months and older in 2008. But Canada did not require preschoolers to be vaccinated.

The Times reported: “scientists found that after 2006, the rate of emergency room visits for 2- to 4-year-olds was 34 percent lower in Boston than in Montreal. Moreover, emergency room visits by 5- to 18-year-olds were 18 percent lower in Boston, probably because vaccination of preschoolers reduced the likelihood of transmission of flu to older siblings and because the policy raises vaccination awareness among the parents of older children as well.”

Now that autumn is here, it’s time to think about putting screen doors away, planting chrysanthemums and getting the warm coats out of mothballs.
While you’re at it, think about flu shots for the whole family – except infants under 6 months old, of course.

Just as there’s no reason not to wear your seat belt, there’s no reason not to get your flu shot.

Most powerful HIV vaccine being tested in Spain

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 (last updated)

A team of Spanish researchers has developed a prototype of a vaccine against the AIDS-causing HIV virus that is “much more powerful” than those made to date.
The feat was made public Wednesday at a press conference by those responsible for the research, Mariano Esteban, of the National Biotechnology Center of Spain’s CSIC research council; Felipe Garcia, with Barcelona’s Clinic Hospital; and Juan Carlos Lopez Bernaldo de Quiros, with Madrid’s Gregorio Marañon Hospital.

After showing a high level of efficiency in mice and monkeys, testing was begun in humans a year ago and during the first phase the vaccine was administered to 30 healthy people selected from among 370 volunteers.
The study was “random and double blind,” that is to say that researchers did not decide which subjects would receive the vaccine and which would receive the placebo, and the people in the study also did not know which one they were receiving, said Lopez Bernaldo de Quiros.
Six people received the placebo and 24 the vaccine. The latter experienced “limited” and “slight” secondary effects (headaches, pain in the injection area or general discomfort), and so it can be confirmed that “the vaccine is safe for continuing with the clinical development of the product,” the researcher said.
Ninety-five percent of the patients who received the vaccine developed bodily defenses – although the normal rate for prior HIV vaccines has been 25 percent – and also, whereas other vaccines stimulate the production of cells or antibodies, this prototype “managed to stimulate both,” Felipe Garcia emphasized.

In 85 percent of the patients, the defenses generated were maintained for at least a year, “which in this field is enough time,” he added.
The researchers will now perform a new clinical trial, this time with volunteers infected with HIV, with the aim of learning if the vaccine, in addition to preventing AIDS can also be used to treat it.
The vaccine prototype, patented by the CSIC, is designed to combat HIV’s subtype B, the one that is most prevalent in Europe, the United States, South and Central America and the Caribbean. The strain that is most widely spread in Africa and Asia is subtype C.

Interview with rotavirus expert Dr Manish Patel

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 (last updated)

Dr Manish Patel, medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, explains how rotavirus affects young children and why it is such a global health issue in developing countries.

Five mutations to make H5N1 bird flu a lethal pandemic

Monday, September 26th, 2011 (last updated)

H5N1 bird flu can kill humans, but has not gone pandemic because it cannot spread easily among us. That might change: five mutations in just two genes have allowed the virus to spread between mammals in the lab. What’s more, the virus is just as lethal despite the mutations.

“The virus is transmitted as efficiently as seasonal flu,” says Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, who reported the work at a scientific meeting on flu (ESWI) last week in Malta.

“This shows clearly that H5 can change in a way that allows transmission and still cause severe disease in humans. It’s scary,” says Peter Doherty, a 1996 Nobel prizewinner for work in viral immunology.

H5N1 evolved in poultry in east Asia and has spread across Eurasia since 2004. In that time 565 people are known to have caught it; 331 died. No strain that spreads readily among mammals has emerged in that time, despite millions of infected birds, and infections in people, cats and pigs. Efforts to create such a virus in the lab have failed, and some virologists think H5N1 simply cannot do it.

The work by Fouchier’s team suggests otherwise. They first gave H5N1 three mutations known to adapt bird flu to mammals. This version of the virus killed ferrets, which react to flu viruses in a similar way to humans. The virus did not transmit between them, though. Then the researchers gave the virus from the sick ferrets to more ferrets – a standard technique for making pathogens adapt to an animal. They repeated this 10 times, using stringent containment. The tenth round of ferrets shed an H5N1 strain that spread to ferrets in separate cages – and killed them. The process yielded viruses with many new mutations, but two were in all of them. Those plus the three added deliberately “suggest that as few as five are required to make the virus airborne”, says Fouchier. He will now test H5N1 made with only those five.

All the mutations have been seen separately in H5N1 from birds. “If they occur separately, they can occur together,” says Fouchier. Malik Peiris of the University of Hong Kong, a flu virologist, says this means H5N1 transmissible between humans can evolve in birds, where it is circulating already, without needing to spend time in mammals such as pigs.

Peter Palese, a flu specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City who has expressed doubts that H5N1 can adapt to mammals, is not convinced. “Ferrets are not humans,” he says. “H5N1 has been around for a long time” and failed to mutate into a form that can jump between people.

“That it has not adapted doesn’t mean it cannot,” replies Jeffery Taubenberger of the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who studies how a bird flu became the deadly pandemic of 1918.

“It simply means that so far it has not – luckily for us.”

In development: a vaccine for acne

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 (last updated)

Sanofi-Pasteur, the world’s biggest vaccine company, has signed a contract with the University of California, San Diego, to develop “an immunological approach to acne prevention and treatment”.

Acne is no joke. More than 85 per cent of teenagers and over 40 million people in the United States alone are suffering this disease” and many adults have it too, says Chun-Ming Huang, head of the lab at the centre of the deal.

Yet there is little effective treatment, says Huang. “This collaboration will make our dreams of acne vaccines for the public come true earlier.”

Benign bug turns nasty

Pimples develop when oil-producing sebaceous glands in the skin become clogged. As the oxygen level within the pore falls, some of its otherwise benign bacterial inhabitants turn nasty and start killing skin cells to break into the blood. In response the immune system unleashes local inflammation, bringing in white blood cells and germ-killing chemicals to battle the bacteria – creating a pimple.

The chief culprit is the main bacterium in sebaceous glands, Propionibacterium acnes. Current acne treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics, aim to kill the bacterium. But acne can be chronic, and long-term use of antibiotics can lead to drug resistance in P. acnes, while other antibacterials damage the skin – partly by killing off its normal bacteria.

A major obstacle in acne research has been the lack of test animals – mice and guinea pigs don’t get spots. Huang’s lab got round that by injecting P. acnes into the skin of a mouse’s ear, causing inflammation. In 2008 they reported that mice given simple nasal-spray vaccines containing whole, dead P. acnes, or a protein from its surface, showed reduced ear inflammation compared to unvaccinated mice when they were then given a live bacterial injection.

This showed that antibodies to P. acnes might reduce pimples. However, a stable community of normal skin bacteria is known to protects the skin from colonisation by nastier germs. A vaccine that encourages the body to indiscriminately attack P. acnes could cause worse trouble than acne.

Troublemaker protein

So the team tried a different approach: targeting a protein called CAMP, which is used by various bacteria to kill host cells. The team found a CAMP gene in the DNA sequence of P. acnes, which coded for a protein that killed cells in sebaceous glands and triggered inflammation.

The team put the gene into young daikon radish plants, which duly made the protein. They then sprayed tiny amounts of the ground-up leaves into the noses of mice, which caused the mice to make antibodies to CAMP.

The team harvested the antibodies and added them to a colony of P. acnes in a dish, where the antibodies bound to the CAMP made by the bacteria and prevented its effects. When these bacteria were put in the skin of a mouse’s ear, they elicited much less inflammation than ordinary P. acnes.

Targeting the protein that the bacteria use to cause trouble, rather than killing the bacteria, is unlikely to encourage the selection of resistant bacteria, as all the P. acnes survive treatment, the team notes. And it won’t disrupt normal bacteria in healthy skin, which do not produce CAMP.

One approach Huang’s team plans to try is to develop monoclonal antibodies to CAMP that can be delivered locally, using microneedles, within the skin of people with acne. This would disrupt P. acnes-related inflammation without disturbing its better-behaved brethren elsewhere.

HPV vaccine controversy

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 (last updated)

In the US HPV vaccination becomes a hot political topic. Time to correct the misinformation about its safety

Meningitis campaign pushes for national childhood vaccination

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 (last updated)

MILLIONS of pounds are spent every year on the care of meningitis victims who survive with disabilities.

The deadly disease can be a killer and leaves one in four sufferers who survive with disabilities but campaigners say it is a hidden cost.

Today the Meningitis Research Foundation is renewing its Counting the Cost campaign and urging MPs nationwide to push for a Men B vaccine to be introduced into the childhood vaccination programme alongside the likes of whooping cough and HIB Meningitis.

The battle of survivors coping emotionally and financially illustrates the Foundation’s campaign highlighted today at the start of Meningitis Awareness Week.

Christopher Head, chief executive of Meningitis Research Foundation, said: “Counting the Cost of Meningitis shows how those survive can struggle to come to terms with the impact of these horrific diseases which change lives forever. “Our campaign makes practical recommendations to Government to reduce the burden of disease through vaccination in the UK. Vaccination provides peace of mind for every parent across the country and we have an online petition for people to sign to join the fight against meningitis and septicaemia.”

The campaign is calling for the government to change its criteria for assessing the value of vaccination for meningitis and septicaemia to include full medical, social and educational costs which can run into millions of pounds for just one sufferer. Mr Head said: “About a quarter of people who get meningitis, and there are lots of different types, do survive with a lifelong disability – that’s one in four. Each of these very severe cases can cost over £3m over a lifetime, you don’t need many to make a compelling case and we reckon there’s 60 to 70 cases in a year.”

On top of those with severe disabilities, there are others where the cost is less but equally important to take into account, he says.

Mr Head said: “If you vaccinate a cohort of newborns, and there are about 700,000 a year, you can make difference. There is a cost of vaccination of tens of millions but the cost of not vaccinating is also tens of millions what we are trying to do is demonstrate if you take the life long view vaccination is cost effective. We are planning on presenting a petition to Downing Street at the end of the year and we have also submitted evidence to the specialist committees drawing from the campaign in order to reinforce the argument that the lifelong cost is hard. We have thousands of signatures already and we want as many as possible. We have a number of MPs who have signed and we are planning a lobby day at the House of Commons in November.”

For more information or to sign the petition visit

Early childhood immunization

Monday, September 19th, 2011 (last updated)

Don’t Miss Opportunities to Vaccinate

Encourage your healthcare provider to give all age-appropriate shots to your child at every visit. Immunizations help keep your child safe from disease and cut down on sick visits to your doctor’s office.

HIV vaccine not far from reach

Saturday, September 17th, 2011 (last updated)

Scientists at the AIDS Vaccine Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, have announced new discoveries to improve the RV 144 vaccine.
The RV 114 is a modestly effective AIDS vaccine has been experimented in Asia since 2009.
It is said to have prevented infection in about 31 per cent of 16 thousand Thai volunteers far above those on an inactive substance designed to resemble the vaccine called placebo.
Results from the RV 144 suggest its protection against HIV is high between 6 and 12 months.
It is the biggest HIV Vaccine research finding in the history of the pandemic, a collaborative initiative of more than 25 institutions and tens of scientists.
Several clinical trials, including testing of an immune booster in Thailand and South Africa are expected in the next nine months.

The story so far

Deputy Director for Science at the U.S Army, Colonel Jerome Kim, believes the results of the RV 144 gives the world hope HIV Vaccine is not far from the reach of scientists.
Dr. Kim, who was deeply involved in the RV 144 Thai trial, tells Nhyira News a licensed HIV vaccine will be an effective tool in the global fight against HIV.
He calls results of the RV144 “glimmer of light”.
“Because having an effective public health HIV vaccine would be a light of day and now what we are seeing is the first glimmers of a possible success” he said.
The trials and new studies are aimed at improving the efficacy level of RV 144 to 50 or 60 per cent in the next three years.
Dr. Kim is hopeful scientists would be able to build on the RV 144 trial success in the years to come.
“With the RV144, correlates tell us there might be something to aim for a target, a direction for the research to go. It tells us this is the question to ask, and if you get an answer to that question then you make the next step so science is a bit like a game where you go from level one to level two to level three t level four” he explained.

So when will an effective HIV vaccine be ready for use?

Though scientists are delighted in the progress so far, they anticipate more work before a vaccine can be produced at last.
Dr. Kim says researchers will have opportunity to build on the RV144 success with correlates analyses which will eventually get them to an HIV vaccine which can be used.
“The big problem is we cannot tell you” (when vaccine would be ready).It depends on things that would be under control.”
But much work will depend on the outcome of next clinical trials in South Africa and Thailand.
“Are the populations in Thailand and South Africa going to be available and willing to test the vaccine so there are a lot of things we don’t know and can’t know at this point” Dr Kim stressed.

Decision Making in Immunization

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 (last updated)

The world is changing fast, but so is our understanding of how we understand that world. We make decisions everyday, but are we really as rational as we believe? And how is social media changing our expectations for communication and social interaction? This thought provoking video leads us to question how well we really understand our own decisions, particularly around immunization – a central pillar of any public health system. We need to better understand immunization decision making if we are to re-balance public perceptions of vaccination.