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News Briefs

A Vaccine For Humans Clears A Hurdle As Bird Flu Expands


Avian influenza is still spreading in birds in Asia despite the slaughter of millions of chickens and other poultry, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said Wednesday.

The United States also announced a ban Wednesday on importing birds and bird products from eight Asian countries where there have been outbreaks of the avian influenza.

Meanwhile, scientists have passed the first major hurdle in the complex process of developing an experimental bird flu vaccine for humans in case it is needed, an official of the World Health Organization said. The scientists are also working to develop a safer and easier test to detect the A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza now spreading across Asia, a mutation of the strain that caused outbreaks in Hong Kong in 1997 and 2003.

The steps are being taken as a precautionary measure because of fears that A(H5N1) might swap genes with a human strain to create a new one that could cause a worldwide epidemic, the organization said. The chance of that occurring is considered low.

So far this season in Thailand and Vietnam, the organization said, 17 people have been infected with the A(H5N1) strain; 13 died. According to the organization, nine of the 13 Vietnamese cases were fatal, as were all four Thai cases, including that of a Thai boy, 6, whose infection had been previously confirmed. The organization reported his death on Wednesday.

Judge Strikes Down NFL Rule


A federal judge ruled Thursday that the National Football League’s rule restricting younger players from entering the draft was in violation of antitrust laws, opening the way for Maurice Clarett, the suspended Ohio State running back, to be eligible for the draft this year.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of U.S. District Court in Manhattan struck down the NFL rule, which prohibits players from entering the draft until three years after they graduate from high school.

The league said it would appeal the decision.

If upheld on appeal, the ruling would have potentially broad implications for the NFL, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and high school sports. In basketball, baseball and hockey, athletes can already jump directly from the playground to the professional ranks. Similar court rulings in those sports helped make it possible for teenagers to join elite professional leagues immediately after high school.

Scheindlin’s decision could make it feasible for football players to make a similar leap, including the 20-year-old Clarett, who sued the NFL in September. Clarett contended that the eligibility rule, which would have prevented him from entering the draft until 2005, represented a restraint of trade and an antitrust violation.