Monday, 24 August 2009

Fast tracked research to fight swine flu

Fourteen projects costing £2.25 million have been fast tracked by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) on behalf of the Department of Health for urgent national swine flu research. The priority studies will be launched this week and will provide vital clinical and scientific evidence that will inform the Government’s response to the virus in the coming months.

Results are expected by the end of the year, and will bolster the body of evidence available to experts who advise the Government on how to protect British people.

The work will be led by research centres in Leicester, Nottingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Manchester and London.

One study, led by Professor Jonathan Nguyen Van-Tam of the University of Nottingham and the Health Protection Agency, will estimate how long someone is contagious for and advise on a ‘safe distance’ from the patient. This will be done by taking daily nose swabs from those with swine flu over a period of at least one week. The research team will measure how much virus is in the nose and how quickly it disappears. They will also take samples from hard surfaces and the air around the patient. Using this data they aim to work out how much virus is being excreted and whether the virus is more prominent on surfaces or in the air.

The research will be carried out in children as well as adults as children appear to hold on to the virus for longer. The results of this research will be available to the NHS in the autumn.

Professor Jonathan Nguyen Van-Tam said:

“Very little is currently known about the H1N1 virus which makes it very hard to predict the numbers of people likely to catch it and how best to treat them. For example, we do not know how long the virus is excreted by infected humans and how much virus is spread to surfaces and carried in the air.”

Additional research projects have been commissioned into the management and treatment of swine flu. One of these studies, led by Professor Steve Goodacre of the University of Sheffield, is evaluating measures that could be routinely recorded in emergency departments to predict which patients with suspected swine flu should be admitted to hospital.

Other research projects include:

  • assessing school closure effectiveness in preventing spread. This would enable local decisions on if and when school closures would be appropriate;
  • measuring facemask effectiveness for healthcare workers;
  • managing swine flu in pregnant women so that treatment and care gives maximum benefit to mother and baby; and
  • how to identify critical care priorities. This will help clinicians make crucial decisions on how best to use resources when treating patients.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Director General of Research and Development at the Department of Health said:

“We are rapidly learning about the emerging swine flu risk profile - solid clinical and scientific evidence must be at the heart of this.

“The research projects announced today will ensure the UK remains well armed to respond to swine flu, help prevent infection, and save lives.”

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