Influenza: The Universal Vaccine?

By: Bel Marra Health | Cold and Flu | Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - 12:25 AM

cold and fluWith the cold and flu infecting millions of people a year, it’s no surprise that researchers have been investigating influenza resistance in the hopes of developing a universal vaccine against the influenza virus. The problem with current influenza vaccines is that they only work for a couple of seasons. This occurs because the vaccine stimulates immune system antibodies that attach to the shell of the influenza virus which mutate rapidly thereby making the vaccine ineffective.

In a new study published in Nature Medicine researchers found that infecting 41 healthy volunteers with the different strains of the influenza virus resulted in differing severity of illness. They found that individuals who had a higher level of a specific type of white blood cell as part of their immune system were less likely to develop a serious illness after being infected with the virus. Based on the results of this study, the researchers hope to copy the natural immune system response that helps with influenza resistance that was seen in some of the participants. The way in which they hope to do this is to develop a vaccine that boosts the level of a particular type of T-cell of the immune system. The T-cells are the part of the immune system that is responsible for identifying the peptides that are part of every known strain of influenza.

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A vaccine that aims to improve the T-cell response will help to provide lasting immunity against multiple strains of influenza, including the seasonal flu, avian flu and swine flu. Currently, scientists are worried that the H5N1 avian (bird) strain could mutate and begin to spread from human to human which could potentially cause an influenza pandemic. Further research is warranted in this area to support the finding from this study and help to develop a suitable universal vaccine to protect our society.

Is it the Cold or the Flu?

Distinguishing between the cold and flu is necessary because the complications that arise from the cold and flu can be drastically different. A cold is a milder infection and the symptoms may make you feel bad for a few days. On the other hand, the flu can make you feel sick for a few days to a few weeks. The flu can also lead to more serious health complications including pneumonia. Cold symptoms usually include: a sore throat, runny nose followed by congestion, along with a cough. Having a fever because of a cold is relatively uncommon. However, children are more prone to having a fever with a cold. If symptoms persist past a week, speak to your doctor as you may have a bacterial infection and require antibiotics. On the other hand, flu symptoms are usually more severe and include: sore throat, headache, fatigue, fever, body aches, congestion and cough. The Swine Flu (H1N1) is also associated with vomiting and diarrhea. Common complications, including pneumonia, are sometimes seen with the flu. In order to prevent both the cold and flu, frequent hand washing is highly recommended as this will help to prevent the spread of the cold and flu viruses.

Influenza and Bacterial Infections

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bacterial infections can occur in combination with influenza. Additionally, bacterial infections can occur after influenza. An example of one of the serious bacterial infections that can accompany influenza is Staphylococcus aureus (Staph.). Bacterial infections with Staph., at the same time as influenza can cause serious illness, and even death. Currently, the CDC is working with public health authorities to monitor and investigate bacterial infections that occur concurrently or shortly after influenza infection. The CDC continues to state that the best way to prevent influenza and possible bacterial infection complications is to get a yearly influenza vaccination.

The recent research looks promising for the development of a universal vaccine against multiple strains of influenza. However, until this universal vaccine is developed, preventing the flu and protecting your immune system by hand washing and getting your annual influenza vaccine is recommended.

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