Imperial College London task force investigates mutations in UK strain of pandemic H1N1

A research team at Imperial College London has reactivated the MOSAIC study to investigate mutations in the pandemic H1N1 virus.

From the Daily Mail, January 9, 2011 [hat-tip BeWell]:

Professor Peter Openshaw, director of the Centre for Respiratory Infection at Imperial, said: ‘We have paid particular attention to whether the mutations are affecting how well the vaccine works and whether the slight mutations have led to it becoming more severe.’

[snip]

Asthma specialist nurse Katy Odeadra, who works in the Chest and Allergy Clinic at St Mary’s Hospital, said: ‘All the talk among doctors and nurses dealing with swine flu cases is of a mutated form of the virus.’

The suspicion that the pandemic H1N1 virus has mutated in a functionally significant way is likely due to the strain on critical care resources. Many more people, especially middle-aged adults, have required heroic efforts to keep them alive this year as opposed to the last wave of the pandemic. There are a number of possible explanations for this phenomenon. But I believe that the most likely is that the virus circulating in the United Kingdom has changed such that it can now readily infect middle-aged adults. Previously, most of the outbreaks were among children. This is no longer true.

The case fatality rate (CFR) was higher among middle-aged adults last year. So, even if the virus has not become any more lethal, infection of a larger proportion of middle-aged adults will naturally lead to more severe and lethal cases.

As to whether the current flu vaccine protects against pandemic H1N1 virus currently circulating in the UK, we don’t know for sure because so few people there have been vaccinated. Thus far, we have not seen a similar pattern of infection in countries with relatively high levels of vaccination like Canada or the United States. However, it seems unlikely that the new virus will remain confined to the UK. Once the new strain reaches North America, the efficacy of the current vaccine (or lack thereof) should be readily apparent.

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2 thoughts on “Imperial College London task force investigates mutations in UK strain of pandemic H1N1

  1. Hi Monotreme,

    You’ve got a person on your forum named Roo who, in the thread about the possible new strain in England, asked whether there were benefits to getting more than 1 vaccine shot.

    The replies to Roo’s questions were unclear, ambiguous, and misleading, and I feel sorry for him/her.

    Please give that person a clear and accurate answer. The answer is this: Yes, even if you’re not an infant or elderly, getting an additional dose of the vaccine definitely tends to help (“tends” being the key word, as all we can hope to do with any course of action is to skew the odds as much in our favor as possible). As evidence, you can either logically extend the same reasoning that applies to infants and elderly, or you can remember back to frontline HCW’s getting multiple doses against H5N1 and the first wave of H1N1. Those doctors obviously weren’t infants or elderly, and were getting multiple doses because vaccines aren’t like on/off switches, but are rather like dimmer switches with logarithmic returns (that is, one dose would convey, say, 90% of the possible benefits, a 2nd dose ups that to 99%, a 3rd dose ups it to 99.9%, etc).

    I’m a healthy adult and I got my 2nd dose of the season about 2 weeks ago in order to boost my odds of survival. One of the HCW’s there at the time was clueless and held the false belief that vaccines were like on/off light switches (“if you’ve had one jab, you’re as protected as you’ll get”) while the other, much more intelligent HCW corrected her and echoed my position that a 2nd dose generally strengthens a person’s immunity.

    Thanks. (I’d help Roo if I could, but you banned me a couple of years ago, so I ask that you get him/her straightened out.)

  2. Bubstubbler, I disagree with your interpretation of the responses given to Roo. You are also confused as to the purpose of the forum. We provide information about pandemic flu. We do not give medical advice. Further, anyone who makes strong claims about what someone else should or should not do with no knowledge of their age or health status is treading on thin ice.

    For people over the age of 65, there is a flu vaccine with four times as much antigen as the regular flu vaccine (Fluzone High–Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine ). I made roo aware of this vaccine, but did not tell them they should take it because I do not know their age or health status. Giving people accurate information is fine. Telling them what to do is not, imo.

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