Fighting the flu

December 27, 2012 9:23:07 PM PST
Tis the season for sneezin', sniffles and sickness.

While we need to be on guard now, the flu may not always be an unfortunate part of the holiday season.

The flu is here, and the infected could be passing it on to you before they even know they're sick. So, researchers are getting creative.

Future protection from this bug may come for our own personal computers in the form of a vaccine that could revolutionize healthcare.

The flu can hit without warning, and sometimes people don't know if they have it or not.

"A lot of people think they have had the flu but they have not," said Dr. Jennifer Earvolino, an internal medicine doctor at Rush University Medical Center.

Earvolino says many people really do not know what a real flu is, and that may be part of the reason it gets spread around so easily. She says people may assume they are just getting a cold and go on with their day, but cold symptoms tend to start out slow with sniffles and a sore throat. The flu usually hits hard and fast.

"Will hit suddenly, fiercely, tons of body aches, headaches, fever, and just all at once," said Earvolino.

The CDC says the flu treatment Tamiflu can lessen symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness by one to two days, but it has to be taken within a day or two of symptoms.

Still, it's not an influenza cure-all. Chemical engineer Tim Whitehead and a team of researchers from across the U.S. think this bug can eventually be beaten.

Using super computers, they're designing proteins from scratch that are able to find a vulnerable portion of the virus that's in most common strains and latch on.

"This is a powerful new approach," said Whitehead. "That was an Achille's heel for the virus."

In the lab, the protein's been tested in animal cells.

"In the presence of our protein, the cells aren't infected," said Whitehead.

Meanwhile, Wired.com reports, Craig Venter, who helped sequence the human genome, wants us all to be able to print flu vaccines.

At a recent health conference, Venter said his team is working on digitizing vaccines that could be emailed, downloaded and printed from a special device called a digital biological converter. The vaccine would then be injected on the spot.

From printed protection to powerful proteins, soon, the flu might not stand a chance. In the meantime, if you are a young, otherwise healthy individual and you do feel something coming on: "Just staying in bed and riding it out is probably going to be what the doctor orders," said Earvolino.

The flu protein and printable vaccines are still years away. So, doctors say the best protection we currently have is the seasonal flu vaccine and staying home and away from others if you feel sick.

Influenza
Symptoms:
-Attacks the body quickly
-Sudden onset of symptoms, including fever, headache, aches and pains and fatigue
-The flu less often includes stuffy nose, sneezing and sore throat.
-Nausea and vomiting are common in children and less common in adults.
-Adults more often suffer from chest discomfort.
Prevention: Annual vaccination. Wash your hands. Avoid those with the flu.

Cold
Symptoms:
-Congestion
-Sneezing
-Sore throat
-Cough
-Fever and headache are rare with a cold.
Prevention: Protect yourself by washing your hands and not touching your face.
Colds are caused by many viruses not uncommon for someone to suffer from several colds per season.


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