Three UNSW research teams will conduct urgent studies to help boost Australia's defences against the evolving threat of H1N1 swine flu.

Funding of more than half a million dollars has been made available by the Federal Government to the UNSW teams to study three frontline areas: the use of vaccines to protect against a second wave of infections; the efficacy of face masks; and the quality of H1N1 diagnostic tests.

The funding is part of almost $7 million set aside by the National Health and Medical Research Council for 41 fast-tracked studies around the country.

The studies' findings are to be presented to the government in December.

One of the largest grants - $337,000 - goes to a team led by Head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine (SPHCM) Professor Raina MacIntyre.

Alongside colleagues Professor Dominic Dwyer, Professor Wang Quany and Dr Holly Seale, Professor MacIntyre will look at the efficacy of surgical masks compared to N95 masks in protecting health care workers from H1N1 infection.

A previous study by Professor MacIntyre showed that wearing masks correctly reduces the chance of falling ill from respiratory illnesses.

"There is a crucial gap in evidence relating to H1N1 and this study will build on previous work on face masks," Professor MacIntyre said.

Dr James Wood, also from the SPHCM, will receive $78,000 to investigate the optimal use of a vaccine to mitigate any second wave of H1N1 infections. Together with fellow investigators Dr Tony Newall and Dr James McCaw, Dr Wood will develop models to aid policy makers in making recommendations for vaccine allocations.

"An effective vaccine will provide the greatest reduction of morbidity of any proposed control measures during the second wave of the current pandemic," Dr Wood said.

"The Australian government has made a substantial investment by ordering a large quantity of H1N1 vaccine and it is important that this is used to greatest effect."

Professor Bill Rawlinson, who is based at the Prince of Wales Hospital, is heading a team that has received $144,000 to assess the quality of tests currently being used to diagnose swine flu.

The quality assurance will ensure that laboratories produce accurate and timely results, establish testing algorithms that can be applied in laboratories, and provide rapid reporting of results and information via an established website.

Media contact: Steve Offner | 02 9385 8107 |