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Designer Antibodies Fight Bird Flu

Study Shows New Bird Flu Treatment Works in Mice

Bird Flu MAbs Still Years Away

Of course, flu viruses are notorious for rapid change. By the time a bird flu pandemic breaks out, the virus may have lost its susceptibility to the antibody.

"We are hoping that one of these mAbs neutralizes a couple of years' worth of H5N1 viruses," Boon says. "Then we would need to update that every couple of years."

Of course, that's only if the treatment really works in people -- and if it's safe. Both of these questions are unanswered. There are still many more animal studies to perform before human safety studies can begin.

That doesn't mean it will have to be years until antibody treatments can be used. Treanor says the National Institutes of Health is already collecting antibodies from people who have survived bird flu. It's hoped that this serum can be used to save other people with life-threatening bird flu infections.

And there's more progress being made. Way back in 1998, when H5N1 bird flu first broke out in Hong Kong, Treanor's team began exploring a vaccine. They gave this vaccine to 127 volunteers.

That 1998 virus is very different from the bird flu virus now circulating in Asian poultry. But when Treanor's team gave a vaccine against the new virus to people who'd received the old vaccine, they had virus-neutralizing immune responses after just one shot. Normally, it takes three shots of the new vaccine -- several weeks apart -- to get such a good response.

"One strategy is to pre-prime individuals who need to get in the field quickly in the event of a bird flu pandemic -- first responders, military personnel, people like that -- with a dose of the bird flu vaccine we have now," Treanor says. "Then these people could be protected with just one dose of vaccine against the virus that actually emerges."

Treanor presented these findings to last week's annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

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