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by Dave Gradijan

Study: Travel Bans Won’t Stop Spread of Avian Flu

Apr 04, 20063 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Restrictions on travel in the United States and school closure will not stop the spread of avian flu across the nation, but they may buy some time to distribute vaccines and other drugs, Reuters reports.

This conclusion is based on a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, according to Reuters.

Timothy Germann, a representative of the Department of Justice’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, told Reuters, “It’s probably not going to be practical to contain a potential pandemic by merely trying to limit contact between people such as by travel restrictions, quarantine or even closing schools.”

The study is in support of the U.S. government’s ongoing effort to prepare for a potential pandemic, according to Reuters. Last summer, the U.S. government spent roughly $162 million to stock up on vaccines, even though it expressed some concerns regarding the drugs’ effectiveness.

“Our model suggests that the rapid production and distribution of vaccines, even if poorly matched to circulating strains, could significantly slow disease spread and limit the number ill to less than 10 percent of the population, particularly if children are preferentially vaccinated,” wrote a team from the Los Alamos lab and the University of Washington, according to Reuters.

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Catherine Macken said the study used a computer model to determine that distributing a weak vaccine to a large number of people would be more effective than vaccinating few people with a very strong drug, Reuters reports.

“If you reduce somewhat the length of time that someone is infective … you end up getting a significant impact,” Macken told Reuters. “You might be better off vaccinating twice as many people, getting a lower level of protection, but still getting an improvement in susceptibility.”

According to Reuters, drugs like Roche’s Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza could also potentially prevent or retard the spread of influenza infections.

The deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu has already decimated poultry stocks across parts of Asia and Europe and has killed more than 100 people. Experts fear a mutation that would make humans more susceptible to the virus, sparking a global pandemic.

According to the Los Alamos and University of Washington team’s computer simulation of the spread of avian flu, the entire U.S. population could start to experience a pandemic as early as one month after the flu’s earliest identification in the country, Reuters reports.

That computer model assumes that roughly 66 percent of people in the United States would eventually be infected, according to Reuters. This number is based on the rates of infection in the 1957 and 1968 pandemics, Reuters reports.

For related CSO content, read Planning for Pandemic and Researchers: Immunizations, Quarantines Would Stem Flu Pandemic.

For related news coverage, read Report: First Bird Flu Vaccine is Only Partially Effective; GlaxoSmithKline Tests Two New Treatments.

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