‘Super Shot’ to Stop the Flu Is in the Works, Scientists Say
This year’s flu has already killed hundreds of people.
In a year when the common flu has killed hundreds more people than normal, scientists say they are closing in on a super shot to combat future deadly outbreaks.
This year’s flu season has been especially bad due to its strain (H3N2). The flu is currently widespread across the US, where 20 paediatric deaths have been reported. In San Diego alone, 34 people reportedly died from the flu in the last week of 2017.
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The UK’s death toll has reached 149 people, causing concern that this year flu season could reach epidemic level, according to DailyMail.com.
In Canada, there have been 54 reported deaths, according to the latest FluWatch report.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic, when an estimated that the 1918 influenza pandemic infected 500 million people worldwide and killed somewhere between 20 and 50 million. It was the most devastating pandemic in modern history.
Getting the flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, but the seasonal vaccine is still only 60% effective at its best. In 2014-2015, it was only 19% effective when the vaccine failed to protect against a mutating virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That’s why researchers are working to develop the mother of all flu shots.
Read More: Why You Should Get a Flu Shot This Year
"We have to do better and by better, we mean a universal flu vaccine. A vaccine that is going to protect you against essentially all, or most, strains of flu," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) told AP.
If a new strain of the flu shows up, it takes months to produce a new vaccine, and by then there could already be a pandemic.
Labs are currently working on developing a “super shot” that would only need to be taken every five years or 10 years, or potentially a childhood immunization that could last a lifetime.
"The vision of the field is that ultimately if you get the really good universal flu vaccine, it's going to work best when you give it to a child," Fauci told AP.
Creating a universal flu vaccine is an ambitious goal as, even a century after the worst outbreak, the flu evades even the best attempts to eliminate it. Because it is constantly mutating, it is difficult to target fully with a vaccine.
But research for a universal flu vaccine is a top priority for NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci pulled together a team of more than 150 leading researchers last summer to develop a strategy, and a few options are starting first-stage human safety testing, according to AP.
One of the options Fauci said they are looking at is following animal flu strains. An important concern right now is a lethal bird flu that was found in poultry and has now infected 1,500 people in China since 2013. This flu mutated last year so the vaccines created are no longer effective backups in case it spreads.
Researchers are also exploring how influenza manages to sneak past the immune system and then finding rare targets that remain unchanged in every strain.
In Canada, there were 15,572 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu reported as of Jan. 6, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. At the same time last year, there were only 8,976 reported cases.
The US is also experiencing a bad flu season, and while the CDC reported the number of flu patients arriving at the hospital is less intense than it was in December, the unpredictability of the virus remains an issue, according to CBC.
The UK is also experiencing its worst flu season since 2011, according to BBC News.
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