HEALTH

CDC calls H1N1 virus ‘homogeneous,’ anticipates vaccine development

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday that scientists have determined that the various strains of novel H1N1 virus around the world are homogeneous — a factor that makes the development of a vaccine much easier.

“From our analysis, we have confirmed that the novel H1N1 virus likely originated from pigs, based on data that each of the genetic components of this virus are most closely related to corresponding influenza virus genes identified from swine influenza viruses,” commented Nancy Cox, director of the CDC’s influenza division, during a press call on Friday.

Referencing an article published Friday in the journal Science, Cox noted that the new H1N1 viruses are antigenically similar to each other. That is, they react to antibodies in a similar way. They’re rather homogeneous,” she said. “This makes our job of coming up with a reference candidate vaccine virus much, much easier. We see much less variation among these new H1N1 viruses than we do for typical, seasonal influenza viruses.”

Currently, the CDC is working on two vaccines for H1N1. One candidate vaccine virus was created by combining the genes of the novel H1N1 virus that are responsible for eliciting protection to influenza with other parts from other viruses that are needed for high growth in eggs. “That process is called reassortment,” commented Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s national center for immunization and respiratory diseases. Also, the CDC and the Federal Drug Administration have created a candidate virus using reverse genetics.

“Here at CDC, we’re performing analysis of the egg-derived and reverse genetics-derived candidate vaccine viruses to make sure that they are able to stimulate optimal immune responses, or that their ability to do that remains intact,” Schuchat said. “And after that work is done, suitable viruses will be sent out to manufacturers. We expect by the end of May that will happen so that they can begin work on developing candidate vaccine seed for production of pilot loss of vaccine.”

As of Monday at 11 a.m., there were 6,764 confirmed cases of H1N1 across 48 states, including 10 deaths. Schuchat estimated on Friday that there may be more than 100,000 active cases in the United States currently.

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Study finds link between vitamin D deficiency, bacterial vaginosis

BY Michael Johnsen

BETHESDA, Md. There may be a link between vitamin D deficiency and bacterial vaginosis, a vaginal infection that is common among pregnant women and can lead to complications.

According to data to be published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, researchers tracking 469 pregnant women found that 41% of those women had BV, and that the prevalence of BV decreased as vitamin D concentration increased.

Researchers concluded that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with BV in the first four months of pregnancy. Further, poor vitamin D status may contribute to the strong racial disparity in the prevalence of BV in U.S. women. Controlled intervention trials will be needed to confirm this hypothesis, the researchers suggested.

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IRI study: Consumers not worried about catching H1N1 virus

BY Michael Johnsen

CHICAGO Almost half of Americans (45%) are not concerned about getting a contagious disease like the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus, according to a new consumer survey conducted by Information Resources Inc.

However, that doesn’t mean Americans aren’t looking to actively protect themselves from catching the flu — 54% reported that they would wash their hands more frequently, 24% suggested they would venture out into the public less often and 20% said they would buy more alcohol-based or antibacterial hand cleaners in an effort to prevent infection.

“This epidemic announcement has caught the shoppers’ attention,” Thomas Blischok, president of consulting and innovation, IRI, told Drug Store News. “And their immediate [reaction] was to buy more hand sanitizers [and] any sort of ‘safety’-related products.”

Sales in those hand sanitizers and related products — like N95 masks, for example — spiked in the immediate aftermath of the H1N1 announcement but have dropped since. That could change this fall if the story of an H1N1 return to the U.S. dominates news broadcasts, as is likely, Blischok suggested, and retailers need to be prepared. For the retailer developing a strategy around this now, Blischok said, “it might be good to begin analyzing their data and understand exactly about people who were concerned about [H1N1] changed their purchase behaviors.”

Many of those products — hand sanitizers, facemasks, thermometers, even prescription antiviral medications — were reported out-of-stock when news of H1N1 first broke, Blischok noted. Now, retailers have a few months to prepare for an expected resurgence in demand around those products.

“I can even see the development of a ‘flu avoidance’ endcap,” Blischok said. “Information [and communication] will be key; understanding what people will buy will be key; [and] being very clear that you have the right assortment to support flu prevention will be key.”

Another important issue, especially for pharmacy operators, is the dissemination of information, Blischok said. Once alerted to the potential of a pandemic, Blischok said, consumers turned to their healthcare resources, such as the pharmacist, for more information.

“The clinics inside the drug stores have a great opportunity to really over-communicate things you can do to prevent flu, to avoid flu,” Blischok added. “The stores that have clinics can really win here, because they can do some diagnostics, etc., and really help people understand exactly the kinds of behaviors they should be undertaking to give themselves the greatest chance of not getting the flu.”

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