Lifetime shot could fight flu

December 29, 2010 9:07:10 AM PST
This is something no one wants to hear: November kicked off flu season.

Sadly, you're most at risk for the flu between the months of November and March.

One year ago, the nation's first flu pandemic in 40 years claimed 16,000 lives and left millions reeling.

Maybe getting a single, lifelong vaccination is your best bet.

A simple cough can turn to a fever in no time.

Experts say up to 50 percent of us may come down with the flu this year.

"My kids were perfectly healthy. They had no underlying health problems whatsoever," said mom Katrina McIntosh.

Three weeks after catching the flu, both of McIntosh's children were dead.

The flu kills a worldwide average of 500,000 annually, with more than 36,000 here in the U.S. Experts encourage vaccination, but those shots need to be given every six months. Crews at the National Institutes of Health are hammering out a universal flu vaccine.

"We could immunize once or twice early in life, and give a life-time of protection," said Gary Nabel, MD, Ph.D, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Imagine the flu virus looks like a lollipop. While the head mutates constantly, the base does so rarely. Experts attacked the base by dosing animals with a vaccine made from flu DNA. Then another vaccine made from a weakened cold virus is added. This prime boost method may allow for the destruction of multiple flu strains.

"The approach is to try and target parts of the virus that are shared among those different strains that circulate from year to year," said Nabel.

In a recent experiment with mice, ferrets and monkeys, Nabel killed off a flu virus from 2007 and one from 1934.

"Normally, we have a vaccine that only protects for one or two years," said Nabel.

For us, the vaccine is still years away. That means your best bet to beat the bug this year is to wash up and cover your mouth.


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