Flu Cure Could Be On The Horizon

U-M publishes study on universal vaccine.

June 03, 2019 - 12:28 pm

(WWJ) We could be one step closer to combating the flu -- for good. 

An international team of researchers from the University of Michigan and other medical institutions say they're close to developing a universal flu vaccine that protects against all forms of the disease. 

The idea is to literally flip the current vaccine on its tail.

Right now, the shot targets the ever-changing head of the virus, which means sometimes it's effective against the strain that has infected the body. And sometimes it's not. 

The universal vaccine in development right now targets the stem of the virus... which changes less often, for a treatment that could conceivably prevent all forms of the illness.

"A universal flu vaccine that could prevent a potential influenza pandemic has been a holy grail for epidemiologists around the world ever since the first flu vaccines were developed in 1938," U-M wrote in a press release.

Part of the breakthrough is happening through quick action and reaction. Experimental testing of flu viruses in humans can be controversial as it requires healthy people to be infected, U-M researchers noted. So, for this testing, study researchers looked at infected households. When someone gets the flu, researchers take immediate blood samples for the rest of the household. That allows them to look at the same virus antibodies in sick and healthy people concurrently.

“Once someone in the house has been diagnosed, we go into the household very rapidly and then we followed them for two weeks to see who gets the flu,” said Aubree Gordon, a professor of epidemiology at U-M’s School of Public Health. “That way, we can get a blood sample and measure antibody levels pre-exposure and then see if they get infected (and if) they get sick.”

The sooner a universal vaccine is developed, the more lives that could be saved.

In its latest estimates on flu impact, the Centers for Disease Control said the disease has sickened from 36 million to 41.3 million people in 2019, of whom 16.7 million to 19.4 million sought medical care. In addition, the disease has hospitalized 502,000 to 610,000 patients and killed 34,400 to 57,300 people. At one point last year, the flu was killing 4,000 Americans a week. 

So, how far along is a universal vaccine?

Far enough along that it has been tested in animals, but not yet humans.