Vanderbilt researchers testing vaccine to combat bird flu - WSMV Channel 4

Vanderbilt researchers testing vaccine to combat bird flu

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

You may not be alarmed to hear of the bird flu in China, but researchers at Vanderbilt University are keeping a close eye on a strain called H7N9. They're testing a vaccine that could help fight what's being considered a pandemic flu threat.

"It was first identified in China in March. And shortly after that, it was very clear that it had arisen in birds and had gotten transmitted from the birds to people in the markets," said Katherine Edwards, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program.

Doctors say there have been about 150 cases, and a third of them have been fatal. Now the CDC is telling doctors to watch for flu-like symptoms in anyone who's recently been in China.

"If indeed this H7 strain figured out the way that (it) could transmit very readily from one person to another and maintain the mortality rate associated with it, then we would have an enormous problem on our hands," Edwards said.

Now scientists at Vanderbilt are looking for ways to protect the public if bird flu starts to spread among people.

"We will be adding some substances to this vaccine called adjuvants, which are substances that have been studied already in hundreds of thousands of people," Edwards said.

The Vanderbilt study will enroll up to 1,000 adults for the first round of testing, where doctors will make sure the vaccine is safe.

"We'll want to make sure there are not large local reactions, that there are not fevers associated. We also are screening so that the people that are participating in this study are very, very healthy," Edwards said.

Researchers say this study is critical in getting ahead of the illness that could potentially become the deadliest pandemic of the century.

"This particular strain could only be an airplane ride away," Edwards said.

Right now, the vaccine requires two doses weeks apart, but scientists want to get it down to just one dose so they can protect twice as many people.

Vanderbilt is one of just nine sites in the country getting money for this type of research.

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