Is a Universal Flu Vaccine on the Horizon?
Every year during flu season, millions of people will get sick, and several populations such as elderly individuals and small children will be at high risk for complications that could lead to hospitalization. The flu vaccine is the best defense against the flu, but it is inherently problematic, because a new vaccine must be developed every year. In the past, there have also been issues of vaccine ineffectiveness and shortages that have left thousands of people unprotected. There may be new hope on the horizon for flu vaccination, however, as groundbreaking research may pave the way to a universal, single-use vaccine that can protect against a wider range of flu strains.
Current flu vaccine manufacturing
A big problem that exists with the seasonal flu is that the virus is always rapidly evolving, so a new vaccine must be distributed each year. Every year scientists take their best guess on which strains of flu will circulate during the winter months, and the annual vaccine is designed to offer protection against those strains. While this can be effective when scientists get it right, there are times when a particular strain emerges unexpectedly. In 2014, for example, the annual vaccine fell short of total protection, causing an influx of hospital visits related to influenza.
First steps in universal vaccination
There are many parts of the flu virus, and historically, scientists have focused on a spike-shaped structure called hemagglutinin, or the H in the name of any given flu strain. The head of the H structure can mutate quickly, but the neck of this structure is more hidden and mutates slowly. This neck is the target of future vaccines that might have the potential to give broader protection for a longer period of time. While this discovery is only the first step in developing a widely distributed vaccine, it could be a monumental step in the future of flu prevention.
Flu season preparation guidelines
With 2015’s flu season right around the corner, you will want to start thinking about the best methods of preventing the spread of the virus. In addition to getting yourself and your family vaccinated, you’ll want to utilize proper handwashing techniques and keep common areas clean and sanitized to stop the flu from spreading. You might also boost your immune system with more fresh fruits and veggies, and be sure to stay home when you do get sick to protect those around you.
Telemedicine has been a great breakthrough in flu treatment, because it can allow you to stay home while you get the care you need to get better faster. If you come down with the flu this year, be sure to contact MeMD for your care from the convenience of home.