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Ebola Virus explained

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Countries will have to rely on 19th century public health measures to see them through a pandemic

Almost 90 per cent of the world's population will not have timely access to affordable supplies of vaccines and antiviral agents in the current influenza pandemic, but it is possible that inexpensive generic drugs that are readily available, even in developing countries, could save millions of lives.

That's the conclusion reached by an extensive review and analysis by immunization expert Dr David Fedson, published online by Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses within hours of the World Health Organization declaring a pandemic.

Dr Fedson points out that seasonal flu resistance to antiviral drugs like Tamiflu may make them ineffective in the pandemic and maintains that without effective drugs some countries will have to rely on 19th century public health measures to see them through the outbreak.

He is calling for urgent and sharply focused research to determine whether drugs that reduce inflammation or modify the host response - the way that the body responds to infection or injury - could be used to manage the pandemic. And he believes that a lot could be learnt from the work done on these commonly available generic drugs - which include drugs to lower cholesterol and treat diabetes - by scientists not involved in influenza research.

"Despite the best efforts of influenza scientists, pharmaceutical companies and health officials, the stark reality is that although studies of the molecular characteristics of influenza viruses have been enormously informative, they have failed to explain the system-wide effects that flu has on people who contract it.

"For example we still don't understand why so many young adults died in the 1918 pandemic, while the death rate for children was much lower. I believe this is because researchers have focused on studying the actual virus rather than how these particular hosts – the children and young people – responded to the virus.

"Most of the world's population lack realistic alternatives for confronting the next pandemic and urgent research is vital. Otherwise people everywhere might be faced with an unprecedented public health crisis."

 
 

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