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One-time flu vaccine in the works

November 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
One year ago, the nation's first flu pandemic in 40 years claimed thousands of lives and left millions reeling. But one day, researchers say you may be able to get just one flu shot that will last a lifetime.Experts say you're most at risk for the flu between the months of November and March. They say up to 50 percent of us may come down with the flu this year. It's more than just a cough and a fever. Most flu viruses can knock you down and kill.

About 500,000 people worldwide die from influenza every year.

Experts encourage vaccination, but those shots need to be given every six months. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are working on a universal flu vaccine.

"We could immunize once or twice early in life, and give a lifetime of protection," said Gary Nabel M.D., director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland.

Imagine the flu virus looks like a lollipop. While the head mutates constantly, the base rarely does.

Experts attack 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 to target parts of the virus that are shared among those different strains that circulate from year to year," said Nabel.

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

"Normally, a flu vaccine only protects for one or two years," said Nabel.

Clinical trials of this vaccine in humans are underway. It could actually be commercially available in the next five years.

With the vaccine still years away for most of us, your best bet to beat the bug this year is to wash up and cover your mouth.


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