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Blood from Bird Flu Survivors Provides Breakthrough in Treatment of H5N1

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This approach is called "passive immunotherapy," and more crude forms of the approach have long been used to protect against certain viruses. Before hepatitis A vaccines, for example, antibody-containing shots were common for tourists heading to developing countries.

And during the 1918 flu pandemic, the worst in history, doctors sometimes transfused blood directly from survivors to the newly sick, sometimes with good results.

The mouse study is "a very lovely, elegant proof of principle," said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University.

More work is needed before trying these purified antibodies in people. It's standard to test flu vaccines and treatments in ferrets, who respond to influenza more like people do. Then the antibodies would need testing in healthy people, to see if they're safe.

If so, they might be tried as a treatment for people still falling ill with H5N1 in parts of Asia. The only treatment now is the drug Tamiflu, which doesn't always save them.


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