Influenza comes in many strains and changes shape over time, which makes it difficult to create a vaccine that works from season to season.
However, many scientists want to create a formula that wards off all types of the flu. And it turns out that llamas may provide the key to this solution.
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Compared to humans, llamas have smaller antibodies, which are weapons of the immune system that latch onto proteins to fight viruses. Human antibodies tend to latch onto the tips of proteins, where influenza is constantly mutating. However, because of their small size, llama antibodies can penetrate the virus at its core, the part that cannot change.
Scientists at Scripps Institute in California infected llamas with multiple strains of the flu, spurring their antibodies into action. The four strongest antibodies were then captured to created a flu fighting formula, which was tested on mice that were given deadly doses of the virus.
"It's very effective — there were 60 different viruses that were used in the challenge and only one wasn't neutralized and that's a virus that doesn't infect humans," Professor Ian Wilson, one of the researchers told BBC.
"The goal here is to provide something that would work from season to season, and also protect you from possible pandemics should they emerge," he said.
The flu infects more than 30 million people in the US each year. More than 200,000 of those cases result in hospital stays and at least 3,000 people die from the virus each year, according to the CDC.
And people with low-income tend to be disproportionately affected by the flu and other illnesses. In 2016, those living in low-income neighborhoods were nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized with complications from the flu than those living in affluent neighborhoods, according to a study conducted by the CDC.
While the research published in Science is in its early phases, scientists are optimistic that a more comprehensive treatment for the flu will emerge, perhaps with some help from llamas.