Recombinomics Commentary

Experience during the 2010-2011 influenza season in the northern hemisphere has demonstrated that pandemic influenza A(H1N1) 2009 virus is still circulating and, importantly, still causing severe disease in younger people. Continued vigilance is imperative, and the appropriate surveillance, control and treatment practices that allow for the control of both established seasonal influenza strains and pandemic influenza A(H1N1) 2009 virus should be maintained during the post-pandemic period.

The above warning represents the WHO conclusions in the report, “Influenza A(H1N1) 2009 virus: current situation and post-pandemic recommendations” in today’s Weekly Epidemiological record.  It follows the August declaration that the H1N1 pandemic phase had ended.  At the time H1N1 was widespread in India as well as multiple countries in the southern hemisphere and was killing previously healthy young adults.  The recent outbreak in the UK indicated that H1N1 levels were higher than last season, leading to a spike in ICU cases as well as saturation in use of ECMO machines which had increased four fold over levels in the prior season.

Sequence data from UK isolates indicated November isolates were dominated by two sub-clades with S186P or S188T.  These sub-clades began to emerge and spread in the southern hemisphere and had become dominant in the UK.  Similar sequences were subsequently reported throughout the northern hemisphere, including the United States and Canada in North America, as well as Mongolia, Russia, China, and Japan in Asia.  In the US the week 4 P&I death rate spiked to 8.45% and week 6 spiked to 8.89%, just shy of the five year high of 9.1% in week 11 in 2008.  This dominance and spread suggests outbreaks similar to the UK will be widespread throughout the northern hemisphere in the upcoming weeks.

The above data supported vaccine escape, which was confirmed by a 50% failure rate in the UK.  (Snip) in spite of these dramatic results, the WHO advisory committee recommended the same vaccine targets for the 2011/2012 season, raising serious concerns about the utility of the antigen characterization tests which produced intra and inter-lab variations including results inconsistent with sequence and clinical data (Snip).

The WHO warning on the emerging H1N1 sub-clades is appropriate, but recommendations for vaccination using targets which produced poor protection against contemporary sub-clades continues to raise serious concerns about the current vaccine target selection and strategy.

•  H1N1 kills 12 in HK in less than a month (Link)

•  Bird flu strikes India again (Link)
•  Meghalaya sounds alert on bird flu (Link)
•  Tripura on bird flu alert; central teams arrive (Link)
•  Swine flu claims a life in Jalandhar (Link)

•  H5N1 in poultry (Link)
•  Culling begins in Tripura firm with H5N1 virus detection (Link)
•  Bird Flu Outbreak in India (Link)

•  3 H5N1 outbreaks in domestic birds in Miyazaki Prefecture (Link)

South Korea
•  2 new H5N1 outbreaks in domestic birds (Link)

United States
•  US: Flu Season Reaches “Epidemic Status”, Vaccines Urged (Link)
•  AZ: Arizona’s long flu season hits state hard (Link)

•  OK: Flu Related Deaths Up In Oklahoma (Link)

•  Teen girl was not infected with bird flu (Link)
•  Bird flu suspected as teenage girl dies in central Vietnam (Link)

•  Suspected fatal human H5N1 case (Link and link)

•  WHO recommends continued use of current flu vaccine strains (Link)

•   6th WHO Meeting on Evaluation of Pandemic Influenza Vaccines in Clinical Trials, 18-19 February 2010, Geneva (Link)

•  Recombinomics: US Pneumonia and Influenza Death Rate Raises Concerns (Link)
•  Recombinomics: Unchanged Vaccine Targets Raise Pandemic Concerns (Link)

•  H5 vaccine produced in plants: Safety and immunogenicity of an adjuvanted plant-made H5 VLP vaccine evaluated in a Phase I clinical trial (Link)
•  Protein Sciences’ FluBlok presentation: Update on completed and scheduled clinical trials of H1N1 and H5N1 rHA vaccines (Link)