A vaccine that provides wider protection against multiple strains of the bird flu virus, H7N9, is currently being worked on as the outbreak in China continues to get worse.

In a news conference held by the World Health Organization (WHO), they cautioned the public that the H7N9 virus, which is responsible for the present outbreak, is one of the most fatal seen in the latest years.

In a recent report, published in The Lancet, researchers confirmed that the A H7N9 bird flu virus, which began infecting humans in February 2013, was transmitted from chickens at a wet poultry market to humans.

WHO reported on May 8th that there have been a total of 32 reported deaths from the avian influenza A H7N9 virus. However, today, May 13th, Reuters reported that the death toll has reached 35.

A scientist named Suresh Mittal, a professor of comparative pathobiology in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has created a novel immunization procedure that includes genes from multiple strains of the virus and offers protection that could continue to exist through different mutations.

Mittal said:

“Avian influenza viruses are moving targets that rapidly evolve and evade vaccines that are specific to a predicted strain. We need a vaccine that protects against a spectrum of strains to prepare for a potential pandemic. Such a vaccine may not offer full protection from the strain that pops up, but even partial protection could save lives and buy time to create a more effective vaccine.”

Mital developed vaccines for previous strains of bird flu and still works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The strain behind the present outbreak does not seem to be easily transmitted from human to human, Mittal pointed out, something which happens in pandemic circumstances.

Mittal said:

“Fortunately, avian influenza in humans tends to replicate deep in the lungs where it can’t easily get out through coughing. However, the more people this virus infects, the more chances it has to evolve. It is important to keep a close watch on this outbreak.”

The H7N9 is a novel strain of avian influenza virus and has the potential to infect people.

A comprehensive genetic analysis of the H7N9 bird flu virus was recently conducted by scientists in China in order to determine its origin and history.

As a vector, Mittal used a safe adenovirus which could transport the flu virus genes into the body, which triggers a two-fold immune response of antibody and cell-based protection.

The host cells infected with the adenovirus vector create influenza proteins that result in the development of antibodies and special T-cells prepared to destroy the virus and any infected cells.

Any genes significant to protection against the avian influenza virus can be included inside the adenovirus vector – which can be made to expose the immune system to the surface as well as the internal components of the virus.

“In this way the immune system can be primed to recognize portions of the virus that predominately remain the same across all strains and those that are more difficult for the virus to change as it adapts to the immune system attack,” Mital said.

Written by Sarah Glynn