Lethal New Hong Kong Flu: Expert Comment Available From St. Jude

December 12, 1997

Memphis, Tenn., December 12, 1997 -- Dr. Robert G. Webster, Ph.D., who played a key role in helping to identify the new Hong Kong influenza virus found in a human for the first time as H5N1, will be available to the media Monday morning, December 15, via telephone conference call following recent news of additional infections and a second death. He has been in Hong Kong this week and, on Monday, will be joining the call from London where he will be participating in a conference on anti-viral drugs.

The teleconference scheduled for Monday, December 15, 1997, will begin at 11 a.m. EST/10 a.m. CST. Call 800-289-0730 and give the confirmation number, 410960, or ask for the St. Jude conference. A teleconference replay will be available beginning later on Monday by calling 888-566-0825 during the week following, or visiting http://www.audionet.com/ats/stjude during the month following.

Writing recently in Nature on the unprecedented transmittal to humans of influenza virus H5N1, against which the human immune system is defenseless, Dr. Webster said: "Typically, new influenza viruses pass through and are genetically modified in other mammals, like pigs, before reaching humans. A unique feature of this new virus of the H5 subtype found in Hong Kong is that it managed to cross the avian-human species barrier without prior adaptation in another mammalian species." (http://www.stjude.org/pr/websterflu971008.htm)

In another recent article appearing in the Journal of Infectious Disease and commenting more generally on current status of influenza in the world, Dr. Webster warned that a worldwide influenza epidemic is a certainty in the near future, noting that there already are enough susceptible people to support such a global epidemic, or pandemic. He called for establishing an early warning system of flu testing in what could be the epicenter of a new flu epidemic -- South China. (http://www.stjude.org/pr/nrbtflu970818.htm)

Dr. Webster is a co-inventor of a new vaccination method that could dramatically reduce the lead time required to produce new influenza vaccines. Instead of using the actual virus -- either dead or alive -- to induce the express of antigens that trigger protective immune responses, Dr. Webster and research collaborators have developed a method termed DNA immunization to induce cell production of precisely desired antigens by introducing DNA that is encoded specifically for that purpose.

Dr. Webster is chairman of the St. Jude Department of Virology and Molecular Biology and is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom's prestigious 337-year-old Academy of Science.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tenn., was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas. The hospital is an internationally recognized biomedical research center dedicated to finding cures for catastrophic diseases of childhood. The hospital's work is primarily supported through funds raised by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC). All St. Jude patients are treated regardless of their ability to pay. ALSAC covers all costs of treatment beyond those reimbursed by third party insurers, and total costs for families who have no insurance.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

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