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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Bird Flu Continues To Be Difficult to Spread

Scientists failed in multiple attempts to make a more contagious form of the H5N1 bird flu, suggesting the virus may have to undergo massive change to cause a human pandemic.

After genes from human and bird influenzas were mixed to mimic a natural process that could lead to a pandemic, the virus remained hard to spread, said researchers led by Taronna Maines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was conducted on ferrets, which flu affects much as it does people.

The H5N1 virus is known to have killed 134 people, most of them through contact with birds. Scientists believe the risk of a pandemic will increase as the virus spreads more widely, potentially infecting an animal or a human with H5N1 and a human flu strain at the same time.

Although the study suggests that H5N1 may not be close to becoming a pandemic virus, CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding said: "This does not mean that H5N1 can't develop into a pandemic strain. We are far from out of the woods."

Also yesterday, Pennsylvania-based Novavax Inc. said it made the first experimental vaccine targeting the strain of avian flu that is spreading in Indonesia, one of the countries hit hardest by bird flu.

Laboratory testing has started on the inoculation against the H5N1 virus's clade 2 strain, identified last year, Novavax said in a statement.

FDA Warns Against Eating Raw Oysters

Consumers should avoid eating raw oysters harvested from the Pacific Northwest, health officials warned yesterday after reports of bacterial contamination.

The Food and Drug Administration said a growing number of people, mostly in Washington state, have reported getting sick after eating oysters tainted with the Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacterium.

More than 70 people in Washington state have been infected. Some consumers in New York have also reported falling ill from the oysters, which are shipped nationwide.

The FDA called this year's growing number of cases unusual and urged consumers to fully cook all oysters before eating them.

More Americans Over 50 Are HIV-Positive

Americans older than 50 are the fastest-growing segment of the nation's HIV-positive population, a study has found.

The face of the human immunodeficiency epidemic has changed since AIDS, the disease caused by HIV, was first diagnosed in the United States in 1981. Whereas HIV was once linked primarily with young gay men, new research by the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America suggests that almost 31 percent of the 100,000 people living with the virus in New York City are older than 50, and many are women or minorities.

The findings, part of the nation's first comprehensive study addressing HIV in older adults, underscore the success of new therapies that have allowed patients to survive for years on drugs that suppress the disease. At the same time, researchers said, older HIV patients present unique challenges for the medical profession.

-- From News Services

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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