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article imageScientists on verge of lifelong total flu vaccine

By Stephen Morgan     May 15, 2015 in Health
Scientists could have finally found a universal cure for all types of influenza. Instead of the often, ineffective annual jabs, they may soon be able to produce a one-off, lifelong injection against all strains of this distressing and often fatal disease.
As winter comes around, news of a new flu epidemic strikes fear into many of us. Articles about an avian flu outbreak in Asia, or elsewhere, flood the front pages of media outlets, as alarm bells start ringing over whether this will be the "big one" – the flu against which no vaccines work, and whose spread is beyond the abilities of medical authorities to contain.
Our concerns are well-grounded. Ten of thousands of people die each year from the flu, and the virus has often led to uncontrollable and deadly outbreaks, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918, which infected 500 million people worldwide, killing some 100 million of them – up to 5% of the world's population.
Flu Pandemic of 1918
Here is a military hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas during the 1918 flu pandemic.
Natl Museum of Health and Medicine
The threat of infection is especially worrying for older people, young children, pregnant mothers, and those with weakened immune systems, who are particularly at risk from its deadly effects.
While progress has been made in the production of annual vaccines, they don't protect everybody, and are frequently ineffective against the continually mutating forms of the virus.
But, that may now have changed, with the discovery of the mechanisms behind the spread of the disease inside our bodies and how some people are able to fight it off.
Scientists in Australia and China believe that they are on the verge of producing a lifelong, universal vaccine which will protect against all types of flu, regardless of its mutations.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that researchers at the University of Melbourne and China's Fudan University studied the flu outbreak of 2013, and discovered "killer" CD8+T cells which are capable of memorizing influenza's distinct strains, and are charged with the ability to root out and destroy new forms of the virus in the body.
A chicken market in Xining  China.
A chicken market in Xining, China.
M M (Padmanaba01)
The H7N9 strain of the virus was particularly virulent – killing one in three people infected with it. However, the scientists found that the survivors possessed the killer T-cells, while those people who were unable to produce them died.
The T-cells present in survivors proved to be the magic bullets of the immune system, which were able to seek and destroy the virus.
ABC quotes Kedzierska as saying;
"These cells are like hit men of our immune system and they can efficiently eliminate the virus-infected cells."
"This is the first time we've shown that those killer T-cells are important in protecting against very serious disease very early on in the infection."
The T-cells seem to form "memories" of the different flu viruses they come in contact with, and then blast any new ones at an early stage.
Consequently, the researchers believe that boosting the T-cell adaptive memory capacity could provide the foundation for a universal cure to influenza.
"We can provide universal immunity that will recognise a vast array of influenza strains and subtypes including new influenza viruses emerging and infecting humans."
"It could lead to a one shot influenza jab for life, or [it may need] occasional boosting," Kedzierska said.
The researchers believe it could also help doctors estimate the ability of a patient's immune system to deal with the virus, and allow them to intervene and treat the virus in its early stages, thus saving many lives.
The research paper was published in Nature Communications.
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