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Avian flu modeled on supercomputer, explores vaccine and isolation options for thwarting a pandemic

Using supercomputers to respond to a potential national health emergency, scientists have developed a simulation model that makes stark predictions about the possible future course of an avian influenza pandemic, given today's environment of worldwide connectivity. The research, by a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science online the week of April 3-7, and in the print issue of April 11.

The large-scale, stochastic simulation model examines the nationwide spread of a pandemic influenza virus strain, such as an evolved avian H5N1 virus, should it become transmissible human-to-human. The simulation rolls out a city- and census-tract-level picture of the spread of infection through a synthetic population of 281 million people over the course of 180 days, and examines the impact of interventions, from antiviral therapy to school closures and travel restrictions, as the vaccine industry struggles to catch up with the evolving virus.

"Based on the present work . . . we believe that a large stockpile of avian influenza-based vaccine containing potential pandemic influenza antigens, coupled with the capacity to rapidly make a better-matched vaccine based on human strains, would be the best strategy to mitigate pandemic influenza," say the authors, Timothy Germann, Kai Kadau, Ira Longini and Catherine Macken.

Longini is a biostatistician with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, while the rest of the team is at Los Alamos. Their collaboration is supported by grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences MIDAS (Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study) program.

"It's probably not going to be practical to contain a potential pandemic by merely trying to limit contact be
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Source:DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory


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