New HHS head takes on swine flu

As news of the first American swine flu death--a 23-month-old baby in Texas--broke yesterday, the US Senate confirmed Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius's appointment to head the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and she got right to work voicing the government's response to the potential pandemic. This morning (April 29), the new HHS secretary--backed by acting Center for Disease Control director Richard Besser, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anth

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

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Apr 28, 2009
As news of the first American swine flu death--a 23-month-old baby in Texas--broke yesterday, the US Senate confirmed Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius's appointment to head the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and she got right to work voicing the government's response to the potential pandemic. This morning (April 29), the new HHS secretary--backed by acting Center for Disease Control director Richard Besser, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci and others--gave her first press conference on swine flu. "We'll be working quickly, but safety is and will remain our top priority," Sebelius said in discussing the agency's efforts to formulate a vaccine to combat the new flu strain. She added that once a successful vaccine candidate is developed, the National Institutes of Health will quickly carry out clinical trials to assess safety and proper dosing of the drug. Meanwhile at Columbia University, bioinformatician linkurl:Raul...
s's appointment to head the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and she got right to work voicing the government's response to the potential pandemic. This morning (April 29), the new HHS secretary--backed by acting Center for Disease Control director Richard Besser, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci and others--gave her first press conference on swine flu. "We'll be working quickly, but safety is and will remain our top priority," Sebelius said in discussing the agency's efforts to formulate a vaccine to combat the new flu strain. She added that once a successful vaccine candidate is developed, the National Institutes of Health will quickly carry out clinical trials to assess safety and proper dosing of the drug. Meanwhile at Columbia University, bioinformatician linkurl:Raul Rabadan;http://wiki.c2b2.columbia.edu/rabadan/homepage/ and his colleagues compared the sequence data from the flu virus that has infected hundreds of people in Mexico and elsewhere to more than 10,000 virus sequences in the National Center for Biotechnology Information database. Contrary to some media reports that have characterized the current strain as a mixture of swine, avian, and human viruses, Rabadan said that the virus appears to be decidedly more swine-like. "The closest relatives to this virus are found in swine," Rabadan said, adding that most of the virus seems to be related to previously isolated swine virus in North America, but that another part of the virus seems to have Asian or European origins. Rabadan added that a part of the current virus may have evolved into a swine virus after a "triple reassortment" event--in which avian, human, and swine viruses combined in pigs-- that likely occurred in 1998, but that all segments of the current virus seem to be of swine origin. Though his results are preliminary, Rabadan's work is helping to form a more complete genetic picture of the new virus as vaccine development ramps up. A good genetic characterization of the novel virus, which is being transmitted from human-to-human and against which there appears to be no background immunity, will be crucial in the coming weeks. "We have not seen this before with this particular virus," Fauci said at the HHS press conference.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Can biotech tackle swine flu?;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55666/;
[27th April 2009]*linkurl:Vaccine dreams;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/54882/
[August 2008]*linkurl:From SARS to avian flu;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15315/
[14th March 2005]

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