Gaining Greater Understanding Of Swine Flu Virus

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Scientists at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) have produced the first genetic fingerprint of the swine flu virus infecting humans across Europe.

The virus’s entire genomic sequence will now be studied alongside other genetic information to give a greater understanding of how the virus behaves as it infects individuals. As viruses are transmitted there is potential for them to evolve and change their behaviour.

Health secretary Alan Johnson visited the HPA’s National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) this morning to meet researchers working on swine flu.

In addition to the genetic discovery, the HPA’s Centre for Infections has today shared the first UK isolate of the virus to partner scientific institutes. This virus strain is the first building block in the development of an effective vaccine against swine flu.

Collaborating organisations include NIBSC and the HPA’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response in Porton Down, as well as the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).

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This isolate will enable scientists to gather more information on the characteristics of the virus affecting humans in Europe and compare those with that in Mexico and the US.

For research into an effective vaccine to be successful, scientists must determine how our bodies’ immune systems when exposed to the virus – another piece of research that will be made possible by the virus isolate being shared.

Professor Maria Zambon, Director of the Health Protection Agency’s Centre for Infections, said: "We are continuing to learn more and more each day about swine flu. The pure sample of virus that we have isolated, together with its genetic fingerprint, will be important resources as scientific organisations join forces on the development of an effective vaccine.

"The rapid assessment of this virus will ultimately help us to make future decisions regarding the health implications of swine flu."

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "A significant step towards protecting the world’s health against swine flu has been taken.

"The speed with which vaccine prototypes can be created to combat potential pandemics is testimony to the dedication and world-class expertise of Health Protection Agency researchers.

"We have been preparing for the possibility of a pandemic for some time. We now look to the vaccine industry to produce the required quantities of vaccine as quickly as possible.”

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