Hopkins to help control flu

Seasonal flu vaccine is only effective if the right virus strains of influenza are included. So the National Institutes of Health are tapping researchers at Johns Hopkins University and four other institutions to find better ways of identifying what’s circulating.

The result of the effort could be better protection from the flu, which kills thousands annually, and better preparation for an emerging pandemic, researchers said.

Hopkins and the other institutions will contribute to NIH’s existing Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance with the goal of controlling and lessening the impacts of influenza. The seven-year contract could be worth as much as $76 million, according to a Hopkins spokesman.

Among the projects the researchers will undertake is collecting real-time data in the United States and Taiwan and make the information easily available to others through a computer network. This builds on reporting systems that already exist but don’t always identify the dominant virus circulating, or not in time for manufacturers to make effective vaccines.  

The center will be co-directed by Dr. Richard Rothman, professor and the vice chair of research in the Hopkins’ Department of Emergency Medicine, and Andrew Pekosz, from Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Pekosz said flu vaccine development has improved greatly, but it still can be hit or miss and there sometimes isn’t enough notice of new strains of the flu virus. Pekosz cited the vaccine that was made for the 2009 H1N1 virus, after the number of cases had dropped and the major public health threat had passed.

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