Scientists Identify Lab-Made Proteins That Neutralize Multiple Strains of Seasonal and Pandemic Flu Viruses
Scientists have identified a small family of lab-made proteins
that neutralize a broad range of influenza A viruses, including
the H5N1 avian virus, the 1918 pandemic influenza virus and seasonal
H1N1 flu viruses.
Hightower: Seasonal flu, which occurs like clockwork every year, is a serious disease, killing over a quarter of a million people worldwide.
Dr. Fauci: There are 36,000 deaths per year in the United States, and more than 200—perhaps between 200,000 and 300,000 excess hospitalizations associated with the flu.
Hightower: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says while very young infants and children, pregnant women, older individuals, and people whose immune systems are suppressed are especially vulnerable, even an otherwise young and healthy person can have a serious complication.
Fauci: And there's also the threat of having what we call a pandemic flu. That occurs very rarely. It occurred three times in the twentieth century—one extremely serious, in 1918, the so-called Spanish Flu that killed 50 million people worldwide; and then two lesser pandemics, one in 1957 and one in 1968.
Hightower: Although vaccines are available, influenza viruses change quickly, creating new strains that require the development of new vaccines each year.
Fauci: So the goal of the kind of vaccine that you would want would be one that would induce an immune response against that part of that virus that doesn't change readily.
Hightower: Scientists have now identified a small family of lab-made proteins that neutralize a broad range of influenza A viruses, including the H5N1 avian virus, the 1918 pandemic influenza virus and seasonal H1N1 flu viruses.
Fauci: One of the best weapons against influenza is a vaccine that induces what we call neutralizing antibody. And a neutralizing antibody is an antibody that can actually block the virus in question.
Hightower: These lab-made proteins potentially could be combined with antiviral drugs to prevent the flu, or even treat it during an outbreak. Dr. Fauci says these findings could assist vaccine developers, with the goal of developing a universal vaccine.
Fauci: They call it universal because it covers all the different strains, or if not all, at least a significant proportion of them, whereas the influenza vaccine that we take this year, when the virus changes a bit next year, it's not going to cover that very well. So you want a vaccine that, even though the virus changes, the vaccine still will be protective.
Hightower: For more on these findings and the latest research on prevention and treatment of influenza, go to www.niaid.nih.gov. This is Dorie Hightower, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Dorie Hightower
Sound Bite: Dr. Anthony Fauci
Topic: flu, pandemic, virus, vaccine