As 49 states report widespread flu activity for the second week in a row, researchers at UCLA offer hope in the form of a new flu vaccine candidate.
For the second week in a row, 49 states reported widespread influenza activity; however, during this severe flu season, one new study is offering hope in the form of a new flu vaccine candidate.
During week 2 ending January 13, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the proportion of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) rose from 5.8% to 6.3% since the prior week, while all 10 national regions saw ILI activity at or above their baseline levels. The weekly FluView report also noted that as of week 2 there have been 8,990 total laboratory-confirmed flu-related hospitalizations this season, which is up from 6,486 total flu hospitalizations the previous week. In addition, 10 more flu-related pediatric deaths that were reported in week 2 brought this season’s total to 30 deaths.
In South Carolina, more than 3 times as many flu deaths have been reported as of week 2 in the 2017-2018 flu season than were reported at the same time last season. By week 2 of the 2016-2017 flu season, South Carolina was experiencing widespread flu activity and reported 7 flu-related deaths. As of week 2 ending January 13, 2018, the state has reported 24 flu-related deaths since the start of the flu season; 9 of those deaths were reported just in week 2 alone.
In Texas, Dallas County has already seen 43 flu-related deaths during a season in which the state has reported at least 11,150 flu-positive respiratory specimens. “The flu is a very serious illness and Texas is currently seeing a high level of flu cases,” state health commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, said in a recent message. “It’s important we all take precautions against the flu. It’s imperative that people over 65, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions protect themselves against the flu. Folks in these groups are at greater risk of severe flu complications, like hospitalization and even death. The best way to prevent influenza is to get the flu shot and it’s not too late. The flu shot can reduce flu illnesses, doctor’s visits, and missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and death.”
In a previous study, researchers found that when a flu shot is effective, 1.2% of vaccinated individuals still get the flu, whereas 3.9% of unvaccinated individuals fall ill with the virus. Now, in a new study published in the journal Science, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles have developed a new flu vaccine candidate that could potentially be much more effective than the current vaccine. The flu virus has adapted over time to evade immune response and stop the production of interferons, which are signaling proteins that inform cells to turn on their anti-viral defenses.
The study team spent 4 years studying the flu virus’s genome, locating and then deactivating the sequences that allow the virus to prevent interferon induction. "By disabling these interferon-evasion functions, the engineered virus is weakened in typical hosts. At the same time, however, due to interferon stimulation, the engineered virus generates very strong immune responses,” the study’s first author Yushen Du, PhD, explained in a recent press release.
"With this approach, the safety and efficacy requirement of vaccines can potentially be achieved simultaneously,” senior author Ren Sun, PhD added. “In traditional vaccine development, one is usually sacrificed for the other.”