The novel A (H1N1) swine flu virus´ whole genetic sequence will be studied together with other genetic data in order to gain a better understanding of how it behaves and infects humans. As viruses circulate there is a chance they may evolve and change the way they behave. Alan Johnson, British Health Secretary, visited the Health Protection Agency´s NIBSC (National Institute for Biological Standards and Control) yesterday and met scientists who have been working on the novel virus´ genetic sequence.

The Health Protection Agency´s Centre for Infections has also shared the first UK isolate of the virus with other scientific institutes. This breakthrough is the first step towards developing an effective swine flu vaccine. The other scientific institutes include the Health Protection Agency´s Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response in Porton Down, the National Institute for Medical Research, and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) says that this isolate will enable researchers to gather more crucial data on the characteristics of the swine flu virus that is infecting humans in Europe, and make comparisons with those in Mexico and the rest of North America.

We need to know how our immune systems respond when exposed to the virus if we want to find an effective vaccine. The virus isolate that is being shared will make this research possible.

"We are continuing to learn more and more each day about swine flu. The pure sample of virus that we have isolated, together with its genetic fingerprint, will be important resources as scientific organisations join forces on the development of an effective vaccine."The rapid assessment of this virus will ultimately help us to make future decisions regarding the health implications of swine flu," said Professor Maria Zambon, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said "A significant step towards protecting the world's health against swine flu has been taken. The speed with which vaccine prototypes can be created to combat potential pandemics is testimony to the dedication and world-class expertise of Health Protection Agency researchers. We have been preparing for the possibility of a pandemic for some time. We now look to the vaccine industry to produce the required quantities of vaccine as quickly as possible."

Source - Health Protection Agency (UK)

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