The respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses is called as flu. Ranging from mild to severe, the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
Recently the researchers have discovered a new way to protect against flu and all future and mutated strains of flu through the use of a novel universal vaccine that only needs to be give nonce.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the annual flu epidemics are thought to result in between 3-5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and between250,000-500,000 deaths every year.
Flu and its symptoms
Normally flu is a common infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes. It can be very unpleasant, but you'll usually begin to feel better within about a week.
You can catch flu – short for influenza – all year round, but it's especially common in winter, which is why it's also known as "seasonal flu".
It's not the same as the common cold.Flu is caused by a different group of viruses and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer.
Some of the main symptoms of flu include:
- A high temperature (fever) of 38C(100.4F) or above
- Tiredness and weakness
- A headache
- General aches and pains
- A dry, chesty cough
Cold-like symptoms – such as a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat – can also be caused by flu, but they tend to be less severe than the other symptoms you have.
Flu can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.
The new universal flu vaccine
McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine in Canada, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, and the University of Chicago conducted the new research to build upon their earlier study that uncovered a class of antibodies that are capable of neutralizing the most dangerous types of influenza viruses.
The newly discovered antibodies can train the immune system to detect a part of the virus that remains the same each year, which could pave the way toward a universal flu vaccine that requires one injection with lifelong protective effects. Part of the virus is always recognizable - even as the virus changes and mutates -which means that the body can safeguard against flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 6months of age and older should get the flu vaccine every season. The seasonal flu shot protects against three or four influenza viruses that research indicates will be the most common during the upcoming season.
Seasonal flu vaccines work by causing antibodies to develop in the body about 2 weeks after vaccination. These antibodies bind to the virus and prevent it from infecting cells.
Universal vaccines work in the same way, but they also recruit white blood cells to destroy infected cells. While certain antibodies work together to recruit the helpful white blood cells, other antibodies block their recruitment. The researchers found that where the antibodies bind on the virus makes a significant difference.
The new antibodies and white blood cells to prevent flu virus
"Antibodies work in two ways. One way is by binding to the virus and preventing it from infecting cells. Another way is by recruiting other cells of your immune system in to kill infected cells," says senior author Dr. Matthew Miller, Ph.D.,assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster.
"Universal vaccines do the latter, but everybody used to think as long as antibodies were present, these cells would be called in. Our findings show that just having antibodies isn't enough. You have to have antibodies that bind to very specific places on the virus. And so now we know the places where antibodies have to bind to call in these cells, we can modify our vaccines so that we can generate those antibodies in higher numbers,"he adds.
The flu shot remains the recommended route to protect against the virus. How well a flu vaccine works each year depends on factors such as the health and age of the person being vaccinated.
However,other factors that affect the outcome of a flu vaccine are the similarity between seasonal vaccine viruses and circulating viruses, and also whether alive or inactivated vaccine is used.
A universal flu vaccine could prevent mismatches between the vaccine and circulating viruses, and it could protect against all flu strains and the occurrence of flu pandemics.
"Using this knowledge, what we can now do is specifically design our universal vaccine to generate the most desirable types of antibodies and avoid antibodies that block the functions that we want. So, by doing these we can make sure that the vaccine will work in the most effective way possible", says Dr. Matthew Miller, Ph.D.
In addition to protecting against flu, the findings by Dr. Miller and team -published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” - may assist with improvements to treatments for other diseases that could use antibodies that recruit white blood cells as a therapy, such as cancer and HIV.
Dr.Miller concludes by saying that a universal flu vaccine could become available within the next 5 years.
Ideal time for flu vaccination
The ideal time to get vaccinated for the flu is a couple of weeks before it starts circulating. And that’s the problem: Knowing exactly when the flu will hit communities is anyone’s guess.
“We can never tell when that is going to happen,”said Lisa Grohskopf, a medical officer in the Influenza Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, getting the shot between now and the end of October, as the CDC recommends, will likely offer the best protection.
The flu can start making the rounds as early as October and go as late as May; flu activity typically peaks between December and March, according to the CDC. So if you miss the end-of-October recommendation, there are still some benefits to getting vaccinated in November and beyond.
If you get vaccinated too early, there are concerns that it won’t protect you the entire flu season. Some studies have shown that the vaccine hasn’t lasted as long in older people, Grohskopf said. And some providers have had the vaccine available as early as July, she added.
That said, there’s a short window to immunize the population, said Neha Vyas, a doctor of family medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, and getting the shot in August is better than not getting one at all.
The CDC recommends everyone get vaccinated against influenza annually, yet only about half the population typically does.In the 2015-2016 flu season, 59% of children between six months and 17 year sold and 42% of those 18 and older got the flu shot; there isn’t an approved vaccine for those under six months. Also, some people who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a paralyzing illness, shouldn’t get the vaccine, Vyas noted.
This year, the CDC recommends that everyone get an injection instead of the nasal spray; “there concerns about how well it worked during the last several seasons”, Grohskopf said.