Local scientists work on vaccine for bird flu after case detected in Texas

SAN ANTONIO – Scientists in San Antonio are working on what could eventually be a new vaccine for avian flu, or bird flu.

The research has been ongoing for years, but recent news has perked their ears.

Three herds of cattle in the U.S., in Kansas, Michigan and Texas, tested positive for avian flu.

It was only transmitted to one human, and that was here in Texas.

“The public health risk of this virus still at a low level,” said Texas Biomed Scientist Dr. Ahmed Elsayed.

Dr. Elsayed has been studying influenza for 16 years and brought some of that research to Texas Biomed just over a year ago.

He said while there have been avian flu outbreaks in recent years, this is not considered an outbreak.

However, this one surprised him and his colleagues.

“This was the first report of influenza in cattle,” he said.

Elsayed said there is a risk for the people who work directly with the cattle, but there is no need to panic for the general public.

As for people talking about the virus getting into the milk we drink, Elsayed said not to worry.

“The dairy products, they (are) all pasteurized, and this virus is so sensitive to heat, so heating of the milk products or the cheese will inactivate any existing virus,” he said.

He said people may want to avoid raw milk or cheese.

While the human transmission in these new cases remains contained, his research preparing for an actual outbreak continues.

They are testing the avian flu virus strains against current and new vaccines they are developing.

This new cattle case will add to his research, but for a couple of weeks, they will not know what the exact virus looks like.

“We don’t expect that the difference will be so big between this cattle virus and the similar versions of the virus that we are working with. Of course, in the next few weeks, we have to find out what is unique in this virus,” Elsayed said.

Once they can compare this virus to the others, they can assess whether they need to tweak their research, but Elsayed is confident they won’t have to change much.

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