From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published December 7, 2010 10:19 AM

The Universal Influenza Vaccine

Every year, people line up to get flu vaccines at pharmacies and doctor's offices because the flu develops new strains, requiring the vaccines to be updated. What if there was a single flu vaccine you could take to last for decades against any flu virus strain? Such a thing would make yearly trips to get vaccinated obsolete and save tons of money in medical costs. Scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) believe this is possible.

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A universal flu vaccine is possible because of our greater understanding of the flu virus. Currently, the seasonal flu vaccine causes reactions in the body that mimic the natural flu virus. This prompts the creation of antibodies which would defend against any real exposure to the virus. But the antibodies created from vaccination are only directed at the head portion of the lollipopped-shaped flu virus. The virus head changes from year to year, making it unrecognizable to the antibodies. Therefore, a new vaccination is required every year.

According to the study's authors, Anthony S. Fauci M.D., NIAID director, and Gary J. Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIAID Vaccine Research Center, a universal flu vaccine would have to prompt an immune response not common in nature. The antibodies would have to be directed at a part of the virus other than the often-changing head. For example, it could attack the stem of the virus, which is common among different strains. During experiments, this type of vaccination has proved effective when administered to animals.

The authors outline how a universal flu vaccine may proceed through the testing and licensing stages. The 16 known flu virus subtypes could be sorted into 3 groups based on the likelihood of spreading disease in human populations. The group with the most potential for damage would be aimed at first. A first-generation flu vaccine would be produced for this group, then so on for all groups.

There is a question of how a universal flu vaccine may affect the evolution of viruses. The vaccine may be so effective that it may eliminate the flu much like polio. Or it may cause drastic mutations that could create a supervirus immune to our antibodies. Perhaps the only way to know for sure is to make the universal flu vaccine a reality and see what happens.

For more information: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/Flu/Pages/default.aspx

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