Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Scientists Infect Chicks in Race to Halt Bird Flu Spread

H7N9 isn’t known to have infected humans before, so no one has immunity to it. Drugmakers including Melbourne-based CSL Ltd. (CSL) and Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech Ltd. (SVA) have started to prepare for the possible need to make immunizations, which would be triggered by widespread human-to-human infections in multiple regions.


Dead Crows

H7N9 has already moved outside mainland China. Last week, officials in Taiwan reported a case in a 53-year-old man who had just returned to Taiwan via Shanghai after a business trip to the eastern city of Suzhou. The man is in critical condition, doctors said. Government officials in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo, are testing wild birds for avian flu after 17 crows and a pigeon were found dead, Yomiuri Shimbun said yesterday.


Concrete Bunker

Opened in 1985 by the Australian government, AAHL looks like an enormous, grey-concrete bunker. Its six floors have 65,000 square meters (700,000 square feet) of space, a labyrinth of laboratories and animal enclosures. The only windows to the outside are in the cafeteria. The building was designed to operate for 100 years, withstanding 1-in-10,000-year natural disasters such as 300 kilometer-per-hour winds and magnitude 5.8 earthquakes.


The H7N9 antibodies are being raised in the center’s Diagnostic Emergency Response Laboratory, opened five years ago in a part of the building once used for bottle-washing. It can process 10,000 antibody tests and 1,000 genetic tests a day, Daniels said. Inside the secure building lab, capable of safely handling the most lethal and virulent biological agents known to mankind, the H7N9 virus is replicated in sterile, fertilized hen’s eggs inside an air-locked chamber.


Ferret Blood

The lab is also producing antisera -- blood serum containing antibodies -- against H7N9 in ferrets for the World Health Organization. The material will be used to assist in identifying infections in people, said Ian Barr, deputy director of the WHO’s Collaborating Center for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne.

After being transported on a commercial flight from Beijing in a tightly packed vial inside a sealed foam carton, the virus was replicated in 15 eggs before samples were sent to Daniels’ lab three days later, Barr said.
“It grows very well, this virus,” Barr said.


“We need to remain very vigilant,” Barr said. “It’s still on the precipice of potentially tipping over from isolated animal-human infections to something more serious.”

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