Health Highlights: May 28, 2013

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

French Man Dies From Virus Related to SARS

A French man has died of the new respiratory virus that is related to SARS, and just as deadly.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the death is the first in that country.

There have been cases in Britain and Germany, but most of the people who have been diagnosed with the virus in the past year had traveled to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Pakistan, according to the wire service.

This latest coronavirus is related to SARS, a virus that killed about 800 people back in 2003.

The Frenchman died Tuesday, and his hospital roommate has also tested positive for the disease, the French Ministry said.

In an update earlier this month, the World Health Organization said that 20 of the 40 confirmed cases of this novel disease have resulted in death, the AP reported.


'Nanoparticle' Flu Vaccine Could Be an Advance

Scientists have used nanotechnology to create a flu vaccine that may be quicker to develop and more adaptable to changing flu seasons.

"This is, I believe, an important advance," Dr. Tony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC News.

Researchers at the institute developed the new vaccine, which is made of nanoparticles that self- assemble under laboratory conditions into an "impostor" of the flu virus. This method gets around the traditional method of using a weakened form of live virus that's then grown laboriously over a period of months in chicken eggs, the researchers said.

Use of live virus makes the flu shot's effectiveness less predictable, since the pathogen mutates constantly.

The new technology uses a piece of the flu virus called hemagglutinin, which is then fused with a piece of a compound called ferritin that naturally forms nanoparticles. These nanoparticles end up resembling the hemagluttinin found on the influenza virus.

"They look like flu. They react with [immune system] antibodies like flu," researcher Dr. Gary Nabel told NBC. Nabel, who now works for vaccine maker Sanofi, worked at NIAID previously and helped develop the new vaccine. His team reported their findings in the journal Nature.

According to Nabel, without the need to grow virus in chicken eggs, the speed at which seasonal vaccines could be created would be drastically reduced -- perhaps to just a week or two.

And Fauci said such vaccines might protect against a wide variety of flu strains.

"To me, this is an important step toward the development of a universal flu vaccine," he told NBC. "The definition of a universal flu vaccine is it covers wide range [of virus strains] and you wouldn't necessarily need to get a new one each year."

So far, the new shot has worked in ferrets, which are considered close models to humans in terms of their reactions to flu. Researchers are working on a version that could work in people.


Illnesses in Alabama Were Just Cases of Flu, Colds or Pneumonia

A respiratory illness that hospitalized five people and killed two others in southeast Alabama was actually cases of the flu, a cold virus or pneumonia, state health officials reported.

Experts there had feared that viruses that have been behind recent overseas outbreaks were at the root of the Alabama cases.

"This is good news," state health officer Dr. Don Williamson said in a press release Thursday, CBS reported. "Testing has ruled out avian flu and novel coronavirus."

Laboratory tests from samples taken from the seven patients had been conducted by state and local health officials, in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The lab samples revealed a combination of influenza A, rhinovirus (the virus associated with the common cold), and bacterial pneumonia, according to CBS.

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