Get Adobe Flash player

Daily Archives: April 26, 2009

WHO chief calls swine flu outbreak ‘serious situation’

The outbreak of a new multi-strain swine flu virus transmitted from human to human that has killed up to 60 people in Mexico is a "serious situation" with a "pandemic potential", the head of the World Health Organisation said in Geneva yesterday.
"A new virus is responsible" for the cases reported in Mexico and the United States, WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in a telephone press conference, adding: "It is a serious situation which needs to be closely followed."
How the situation will evolve is "unpredictable," she said, urging other countries to "increase vigilance".
"This virus has clearly a pandemic potential," she added.
The World Health Organisation was on high alert in the face of the outbreak of swine flu with alarming characteristics that has killed up to 60 people in Mexico and also infected the United States.
"The most worrying fact is that it appears to transmit from human to human," a spokesman for the UN body, Thomas Abraham, told AFP, adding that the swine flu virus had mutated into "a mix of genes that we have never seen before."
Dave Daigle, of the US Centers for Disease Control, which is working closely with the WHO, said a bird flu strain, two swine flu strains and a human strain had combined for the first time.
These features, along with the fact that unusually young healthy adults have fallen victim, and not the very old or very young, have given rise to fears of a serious epidemic, if not a pandemic.
The pig is an ideal mixing vessel for flu viruses if simultaneously infected with more than one, which can combine within the animal to create a new, more virulent strain.
According to the WHO, pigs have already been factors in the appearance of two previously unknown strains that gave rise to pandemics in the last century.
Health authorities are also in a race against time as the illness is already fairly widespread.
In Mexico the main outbreak has hit the capital, Mexico City, with between 18 and 20 confirmed deaths due to the virus, but San Luis Potosi in the centre, with three dead, and Mexicali on the US border, have also suffered cases of the disease.
The virus detected in 12 fatal Mexican cases is also genetically identical to that which affected eight people in the US states of California and Texas, though all of those recovered.
In addition 75 students in New York showing flu-like symptoms have been undergoing tests, according to CNN.
Authorities in Mexico, where 40 more deaths are suspected to have resulted from the disease, and some 1,000 patients are under observation, are already using the term epidemic, but the WHO has not yet gone so far.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan, who is a specialist on pandemics, returned from the United States yesterday and was expected to speak at the agency's Geneva headquarters later in the day.
A pandemic occurs when there is a new virus to which few people have resistance, the virus is easily transmissible and sustainable within a population, and causes severe illness.
Mexico has ordered schools and colleges shut, theatres and museums have also closed in the capital and two football games will be played today without spectators to avoid mass gatherings of people.
Mexico City authorities initially announced a mass vaccination campaign using regular human flu vaccines, but later said that the WHO had advised them that it was better to use antiviral medicines.
"Vaccination is the second step," WHO spokesman Abraham said.
"At the moment, it should be possible to produce a vaccine since this virus has been identified," he added. "But it will take some time."

Scientists complete genome sequence of cows

Researchers have decoded the genome sequence of cows, which could lead to production of better-quality milk and beef, and shed new light on bovine and human health.
It took 300 scientists based in 25 countries six years to unlock the sequence, according to the results published this week in Science magazine.
The genome of the domestic cow (Bos taurus) contains about 22,000 separate genes, 80 percent of which are identical to human genes.
The researchers also found that the way chromosomes are organized in humans is closer to the pattern found in cows than in rats or mice – animals widely used in laboratories for studying human illnesses and treatments.
The "Bovine Genome Sequencing Project" was carried out on Hereford cows, which originated in Britain, but are now found all over the world. The medium-sized cows are usually russet-brown in color and primarily used in beef production.
"The cattle industry is extremely important for US agriculture with more than 94 million cattle in the United States valued at 49 billion dollars," said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
"Understanding the cattle genome and having the sequence will allow researchers to understand the genetic basis for disease in domestic cattle and could result in healthier production of meat and milk while reducing producers' dependence on antibiotics," he added.
The 35-million-dollar study was led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and the US Agricultural Research Service.
"The domestic cattle genome sequence opens another window into our own genome," said the acting director of the National Institutes of Health, Raynard Kington.
"By comparing the human genome to the genomes of many different species, such as the domestic cattle, we can gain a clearer view of how the human genome works in health and in disease."
Genomic data can be used to develop better strategies for treating and preventing diseases that affect cattle, some of which – such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease – can also be transmitted to people.
In addition, information from the sequencing "will be a valuable resource and will transform how dairy and beef cattle are bred," said Richard Gibbs, at Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome Sequencing Center in Houston.
"Genetic tools are already being developed and proving useful to the dairy industry and we predict they will be applied to improve the beef industry.
"We hope the information will also be used to come up with innovative ways to reduce the environmental impact of cattle, such as greenhouse gases released by herds," he added.
The USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS) contributed about 10 million dollars for the project.
That came in addition to the 25 million dollars contributed to the project by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the US National Institutes of Health.