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Small band of nurses plays key role keeping germ threats at bay

Flu. Smallpox. Anthrax. Whooping cough. The words represent a veritable murderers' row of infectious agents whose death toll runs in the millions.

Between them and us stand a few small groups of nurses at select institutions around the country, including the University of Rochester Medical Center, who protect the population from such scourges.

The University is one of seven institutions that make up an elite network of centers established by the Federal government to respond to national needs in the area of infectious disease. Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the seven Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Units (VTEUs) supply the nurse power necessary to beat back or altogether prevent infectious disease. The VTEUs assess the safety and effectiveness of potential vaccines; the targets include new diseases, like bird flu; tenacious killers that re-appear every year, like the flu; and even diseases that have been wiped out in nature but could still pose a threat, such as smallpox.

In 2001, shortly after the 9/11 disaster, the nation called upon the network to see if the smallpox vaccine supply could be extended if necessary. Last year, as chickens in Asia died from bird flu, a study of an experimental vaccine was initiated.

This fall when the nation set out to prevent another flu vaccine shortage from occurring, much of the effort ended up in the hands of nurses at four of the seven VTEUs. Last week, nurses in the vaccine testing unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center wrapped up one of their busiest weeks ever, vaccinating a record 278 people in one week with an experimental flu vaccine designed to help prevent another shortage.

Other VTEUs taking part in the current flu study are at Baylor Medical College, Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and the University of Maryland. In addition, St. Louis University, University of California at Los Angeles, and Vanderbilt are all part
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Contact: Tom Rickey
tom_rickey@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-7954
University of Rochester Medical Center
22-Dec-2004


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