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Bird flu vaccine may still be some way offPosted on 29/05/2007

The possible need for large quantities of face masks to prevent airborne infection in the event of a bird flu pandemic remains despite news of a scientific breakthrough in the search for a vaccine against the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.

Scientists have discovered antibodies produced by human survivors of H5N1 infections in Vietnam which give protection against the virus and have been able to reproduce this protection in laboratory experiments involving mice.

Professor Antonia Lanzaveccia, from the Swiss Institute for Research in Biomedicine, told the BBC this could lead to the harvesting of H5N1-resistant antibodies and the cells that make them.

He said: 'Using this technique, we can isolate the cells that make these antibodies so that this antibody can now be reproduced in vitro and eventually massively produced to treat other individuals.'

However, any vaccine would require successful testing on humans before it could be developed for the purpose of mass immunisation.

In the meantime, the threat of a mutant form of H5N1 causing a pandemic remains, in which instance face masks to prevent respiratory infection may be required.

Last week a farm in north Wales was cordoned off after a bird flu outbreak and workers were treated for symptoms.

However, the outbreak turned out to be the H7 strain, which is not fatal to humans.

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