'One-Punch' Vaccine

Don’t be quick to dismiss the flu as something that you can just sleep off—it’s actually one of the most contagious viral infections out there that can lead to hospitalization, or even death.

According to WHO, the flu is responsible for an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 deaths around the world each year. And when flu season arrives, it means the viruses (all different strains) are being passed around at much higher levels.

Getting an annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from the virus, and lower your chances of catching and spreading it to others. But here’s the tricky thing—every flu season is different because the virus can change from year to year. The virus can also affect people differently and the effectiveness of the vaccine is largely dependent on the person’s age, general health, and how similar the seasonal vaccine viruses are to the circulating viruses.

Senior author of the study, Matthew Miller. Image Credit: McMaster University

What we need therefore, isn’t just a way to ensure that more people get vaccinated against the flu to prevent it from spreading, but a more effective, “one-punch,” flu vaccine that can neutralize more types of the  virus. This is exactly what researchers from McMaster University, alongside two other American universities, have been working on.

Just Five Years

According to the latest findings, the research team has discovered a class of antibodies that basically “train” the immune system to recognize a part of the virus that doesn't undergo seasonal changes. Their findings bring us a step closer towards a universal vaccine that can be administered just one time, and could offer protection against all possible strains of the flu.

“Our findings show that just having antibodies isn’t enough. You have to have antibodies that bind to very specific places on the virus,” said senior author of the study, Matthew Miller. “Now that we know the places where antibodies have to bind, we can modify our vaccines so that we generate those antibodies in higher numbers.”

Miller believes a universal flu vaccine could be a reality within the next five years. Should the study prove successful, we will be able to add the flu to the list of vaccine-preventable diseases that have been successfully eradicated in the region. Just recently, measles was officially eliminated in the US, while Rubella (german measles) was defeated last year.

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