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New Zealand scientists win international contract to hunt flu virus

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A group of New Zealand scientists and flu researchers have won a five-year, multi-million-dollar contract to study influenza in an effort to better understand the burden of the virus and how to prevent its spread around the world.

New Zealand Health Minister Tony Ryall and the Minister for Science and Innovation Wayne Mapp on Wednesday congratulated the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) on winning the contract awarded by United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Globally flu results in 3 million to 5 million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths each year, while billions of dollars are spent on vaccines to prevent its spread, according to ESR.

The “Southern Hemisphere Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance” (SHIVERS) project will be led by ESR in collaboration with the universities of Auckland and Otago, the Auckland District Health Board and the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre at St Jude Children’s Hospital in the United States.

It will look at how the influenza virus and other respiratory pathogens spread through populations.

In addition to providing an extended evidence base and further answers on the epidemiology of influenza, the SHIVERS research will be used to inform public health and vaccination strategies around world in an effort to protect the most vulnerable patients and better plan for and protect against flu epidemics and pandemics, like the H1N1.

The scientists propose to study the autumn and winter “flu season” amongst the Auckland population using New Zealand’s advanced health surveillance systems, which were highly effective in monitoring and combatting the spread of the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

SHIVERS program leader at the ESR, Dr Virginia Hope, said the project would allow researchers to investigate and hopefully answer fundamental science questions about influenza, which is one of the world’s most serious infectious diseases.

“The end goal of this research is to provide needed data for influenza control strategies and also provide knowledge that can improve health around the world,” said Hope.

The SHIVERS project would also boost New Zealand’s existing influenza surveillance systems by establishing two enhanced real- time surveillance systems, one hospital-based and one community- based, in the Auckland region.


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