The flu virus isn’t just one virus. It’s many different strains of the virus. The thing keeps mutating into new strains, and those new strains mutate, and then those mutate, and so on. That’s why we have to get vaccinated every year – the strains circling the world have usually mutated between flu seasons, and the previous year’s vaccine will not protect us against this year’s newly-mutated strain.
Scientists have searched for a facet of the influenza virus that stays the same in all the mutations, so that they can target that facet in developing a vaccine and put the kapow to most all strains of the influenza virus. They now think they’re onto something. If they are, that might mean one vaccination for a lifetime, rather than yearly shots.
In a recently published study (early 2009), researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, found that a manmade antibody can recognize this facet that stays the same across many flu strains (including bird flu viruses, the pandemic 1918 virus and regular, seasonal varieties) and the antibody can hamper the virus’ ability to infect cells.
Not only might this antibody be used in the development of a vaccine, but researchers are pondering the possibility that it could be used to treat those recently infected.
Lots more research needs to be done, but it’s potentially one of those thrilling leaps in science that reminds us of Buck Rogers and dreamy Saturday afternoons at the movies.
For now, flu season is still underway. The season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Until otherwise notified, we’ll all be rubbing that sore spot each autumn.