The US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases says that it has begun a trial to assess the safety of a vaccine against avian flu – a deadly strain of the virus, which experts believe could lead to a flu pandemic.

The Phase I study aims to recruit a total of 450 healthy adults aged 18 to 64 in various sites around the USA to trial the vaccine, which is manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur. The French company won a contract to produce the vaccine for the US governmental trials in May last year [[28/05/04f]]. If the vaccine is shown to be safe in adults, there are plans to test it in other populations, such as the elderly and children.

“While there have been relatively few cases worldwide of H5N1 avian influenza infection in humans, the public health community is concerned that the virus will develop the capability of efficiently spreading from human to human and thus create a risk for a worldwide pandemic,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

H5N1 avian flu affects both birds and humans – between January 2004 and March this year, there were 69 confirmed cases of and 46 deaths from H5N1 infection in humans. To date, there has been a small number of cases where human-to-human transmission of the virus may have occurred. However, public health experts fear that the virus may evolve into one that is more easily transmitted between people and that a pandemic could follow.