Analysis of Spanish flu cases in 1918-1920 suggests transfusions might help in bird flu pandemic

Transfusions with blood products taken from people who had recovered from Spanish influenza may have reduced risk for death and improved symptoms of hospitalized patients who contracted Spanish influenza complicated by pneumonia. Early treatment was superior to later treatment.

Researchers studied medical literature published shortly after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and found eight relevant studies.

Similar transfusions might be useful in treating victims of a bird flu pandemic, especially in light of the problems with existing vaccines and treatments, say authors of the Spanish flu study. They say that a single recovering bird-flu patient could donate "a weekly volume of plasma sufficient to treat multiple patients with H5N1 influenza."

The article "Convalescent Blood Products for Spanish Influenza Pneumonia: A Future H5N1 Treatment?" will be published in the Oct. 17, 2006, print edition of Annals of Internal Medicine and is available at http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/0000605-200610170-00139v1. An accompanying editorial is available at http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/full/0000605-200610170-00140v1.

Spanish flu (H1N1) and bird flu (H5N1) are subtypes of influenza A virus. The Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 to 1920 killed between 20 million and 100 million people worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that a bird-flu pandemic is a serious possibility today. As of August 24, 2006, 241 cases of confirmed avian flu A/(H5N1) have been reported to WHO, resulting in 141 deaths.

WHO says H5N1 virus is widespread in birds, particularly poultry which seems to be the source of the Asian infections. Widespread prevalence of the virus in birds increases the chance of transmission from bird to human. When human cases become transmiss

Contact: Susan Anderson
American College of Physicians

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