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Under the microscope: avian influenza

This month: avian influenza

Tell me about avian influenza?

There are lots of different strains of bird flu virus. Most of them don’t infect humans, but there are four strains that have caused concern in recent years (H5N1, H7N9, H5N6 and H5N8). Although these strains don’t infect people easily and aren’t usually spread from human to human, several people have been infected around the world.

Do we have these strains in the UK?

H5N8 and H5N1 bird flu have been found in some poultry, other captive birds and wild birds in the UK. H5N6 has also been found in some wild birds in the UK, but this is a different strain to the H5N6 virus that has infected some people in China.

Is there an avian flu vaccine?

No, there isn’t (and the seasonal flu vaccine doesn’t protect against bird flu). But there is promising work in the pipeline.

Please do continue.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Vaccine Research Centre have developed an improved way to test potential vaccines against bird flu.

What have they done?

To be ready to safely and efficiently test promising vaccine candidates, researchers developed an animal model that more closely mimics the typical symptoms of human infection than any such model so far. This proactive work minimises the steps needed to quickly validate and deploy a new vaccine in a crisis.

Does this mean they will quickly find an effective vaccine, if needed?

No, it does not. But while the researchers caution that their findings do not mean that a seasonal flu vaccine can efficiently protect against bird flu, they are optimistic that protective efficacy of future vaccines that target strains of bird flu can be tested using this model and deployed faster.

Where can I read more?

Read their paper at

Image credit | iStock



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