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Preventing a pandemic: Study suggests strategies for containing a flu outbreak

Though quick to caution about the many things that could go wrong, researchers say that it may be possible to contain a Southeast Asian outbreak of avian influenza in humans, buying precious time for the production of a vaccine.

Using a computer model to simulate an outbreak in a rural Southeast Asian population, the scientists have shown how a combination of strategies, including targeted administration of antivirals, quarantine and prevaccination -- even with a poorly effective vaccine -- could potentially contain an outbreak in Southeast Asia under many circumstances.

The study, by Ira Longini of Emory University and colleagues, will be published online by the journal Science, at the Science Express website, on Thursday, 4 August.

"Our findings indicate that we have reason to be somewhat hopeful. If -- or, more likely, when -- an outbreak occurs in humans, there is a chance of containing it and preventing a pandemic. However, it will require a serious effort, with major planning and coordination, and there is no guarantee of success," said coauthor Elizabeth Halloran of Emory University.

"Early intervention could at least slow the pandemic, helping to reduce morbidity until a well-matched vaccine could be produced," she said.

The danger of avian flu is that the virus could develop into a new strain that could be transmitted among humans. The virus might mutate, or it might jump over to a human already infected with the flu and then mix, or "reassort," with the human flu virus. Because humans would have little or no immune protection against this strain, it could potentially cause a massive pandemic.

"There were three influenza pandemics in the 20th century alone. The threat of another pandemic, related to avian influenza, is real and very serious. Fortunately, as the new study shows, for the first time in human history, we have a chance of stopping the spread of a new influenza strain at the source through good surve
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Source:American Association for the Advancement of Science


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