U.S. health officials are wasting no time responding to the latest bird flu outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday (April 4) that it had begun work on a vaccine against H7N9, a new bird flu virus causing illness in China. So far, health officials know of 14 people who fell ill with the virus, six of whom died.
The CDC plans to "build" the virus to use in its vaccine, rather than wait for a sample to ship from China, the New York Times reported. Using the H7N9 genetic sequence as a blueprint, CDC researchers will synthesize genes for part of the virus, and attach them to the "backbone" of another virus known to grow well in labs, the Times said. The vaccine will then be given to ferrets, who get sick with flu much like people do, to see if it protects them.
The vaccine is being made only as a precaution — health officials aren't sure yet if they'll need to use it. Right now, the virus doesn't appear to spread between people.