Monday, June 15, 2009

Swine Flu Vaccine on the Way

With the swine flu now declared a pandemic, several drug companies are actively working toward developing a vaccine. Last week, GlaxoSmithKline stated that it will soon begin large-scale vaccine production; Sanofi-Aventis is also developing one and Novartis has an experimental vaccine already, but it has not been tested in humans.

The WHO estimates that 2.4 billion doses of swine flu vaccine should be available in about 1 year. The challenge will be making sure the vaccine is evenly distributed throughout the world. Currently, the aim is to provide 10% of the global vaccine supply to poor and developing countries- this is especially important since individuals with preexisting health conditions (prevalent in developing countries) will be more susceptible to swine flu. Whether this will actually happen is up for debate since in past pandemics, most vaccines have remained in the countries where they were developed.

Source: Maria Cheng, "Drugmakers rush to produce a swine flu vaccine", The Associated Press, June 12, 2009.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Swine Flu Pandemic Has Started

photo by Eneas

The swine flu has now been declared a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO) officials. A pandemic is any epidemic or infection that spreads through a large population ("pan" = all, "demos" = people). This is the first flu pandemic since the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968 , when an estimated 1 million people died worldwide. Although the swine flu virus is rapidly spreading, it doesn't mean that the virus itself is more lethal or virulent; it's actually not much more severe than the seasonal flu, but the main difference is that since previous exposure to the virus has not occurred, we have little to no preexisting immunity to the virus and no vaccines to effectively combat infection. The pandemic declaration, however, will definitely speed the production of a swine flu vaccine.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bacteria- They've Got You Covered

photo by IRRI Images

Bacteria literally have us covered, inside and out. NIH researchers have found that the healthy human epidermis is home to about 1000 species of bacteria, or an estimated 100 billion individual bacteria total. Various regions of skin from 10 volunteers (5 female, 5 male) were swabbed to collect bacterial samples for analysis. The study found that moist areas housed 10 times more bacteria than dry areas. The human forearm alone showed the greatest bacterial diversity with 44 species detected, while the oily area behind the ear had only 15 species. Interestingly, similar species were found in the same areas on each individual, indicating that bacterial species have their own niche on our skin as well as pointing to a mutualistic relationship between "us" and "them".

Source: Karen Kaplan, "1000 Species of Bacteria Found on Healthy Humans", Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2009.