Two recent H1N1 briefings, although not directed specifically at journalists, contain helpful information that might be useful to you in your reporting.
First: Last week, the World Health Organization released a briefing note about H1N1 in animals. It’s significance is its stress on the need for ongoing monitoring, since animals — like humans — might well be hosts for viral mutations or recombinations. The worry here: if the current H1N1 virus mutates, it could become more pathogenic.
Concern has traditionally focused on swine, which are susceptible to infections from human and avian influenza viruses as well as swine influenza viruses. As influenza viruses have eight neatly segmented genes, swine could theoretically operate as a viral “mixing vessel” for the exchange of genetic material when an animal is co-infected with different viruses. Such an event could lead to changes in the genetic makeup of the H1N1 virus or result in a novel influenza virus of unknown public health significance. [...]
Another concern is the continuing presence of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus in poultry in several countries, where the virus is endemic. While no one can predict how the H5N1 virus might behave under the pressures of a pandemic, all data to date have been reassuring.
Second: This week, FDA commissioner Dr. Nancy Hamburg sent a letter to U.S. health-care providers. Its goal: to give them information about the H1N1 vaccine that they can pass on to patients — to increase their confidence in the vaccine. The information includes a succinct history of the manufacturing process. It begins like this:
First, scientists at laboratories in the United States and elsewhere modified the 2009 H1N1 virus into a version suitable to be used as the “seed” for the development of vaccines. The process that was followed is similar in every respect to that which is employed every year for the preparation of seasonal influenza vaccines, as slightly different strains appear regularly each year.
It goes on to explain each step through licensing and clinical trials.