U.S. government preps its response as another avian flu touches down

Amid the United States' battle with the current avian flu outbreak in poultry, the CDC on Wednesday announced plans to develop a vaccine to protect humans from a potential outbreak.

The virus--which has lead to the death of nearly 7 million birds since early last month--has had its most dramatic impact on commercial poultry in the Midwest. Though officials are "cautiously optimistic" that there won't be human cases, USA Today reported, the government routinely researches potential vaccines as a public health measure.

Joni Scheftel, public health veterinarian, said that officials aren't concerned with the virus mutating into a more harmful version, rather that a person with a genetic susceptibility could come into contact with it.

The highly pathogenic H5N2 bird flu strain has affected 16 states, but it won't be the first time fear has spread from the disease and its mutations. In 2003, the H5N1 strain began spreading--primarily through Asia--and has infected 784 humans through early March.

To combat the potential outbreaks, the government regularly searches for human vaccines, in the past searching for a H7N9 vaccine to prevent a potential pandemic. Last year, it fast-tracked a candidate from Novavax ($NVAX) and separately found that an experimental jab from Sanofi ($SNY) prompted an immune response in 59% of 700 participating healthy adults when combined with Novartis' ($NVS) MF59 adjuvant.

- here's the USA Today coverage
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