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Avoiding flu may soon be as easy as a patch

October 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Researchers hope a new development will take the sting out of flu shots, making one less excuse for those who avoid getting their flu shot.

After catching the flu last winter, Linda Little is stocking up with medicine and chicken soup.

"It was the worst week of my life, beginning with the aches and pains, you know, you don't want to be in pain," she said.

Complications from the flu can be serious. Up to 20 percent of Americans will be infected, and more than 200,000 will be hospitalized for flu-related illness this year.

But preventing the flu can be a pain, too, and doctors know that many people don't get their flu shot because they don't like the needle.

Researchers may have found a better way through the way of dozens of microscopic needles coated or filled with vaccine, then placed on a patch like a band-aid.

"They penetrate the skin. You do not feel any pain, and the vaccine is being delivered that way," said Dr. Dimitrios Koutsonanos of Emory University School of Medicine.

For the vaccine to kick in, you wear the micro-needle patch for less than 10 minutes. In a new study, the patch was not only as effective as a shot, it provided even better protection.

"They are lasting longer than the intramuscular, the systemic conventional vaccination," said Ioanna Skountzou, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine.

But how will you respond? A new blood test measures changes in blood cells in the first days after a flu shot and can predict whether the vaccination will actually work.

"Essentially, we would know within, say a week, whether this person will achieve a certain level of protection that would be necessary for protection," said Bali Pulendran of Emory Yerkes Research Center.

This may change the way we fight the flu, one vaccination at a time.

The micro-needle patches and the vaccination efficacy test are still experimental, but researchers believe they could be available to the public within the next five years.


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