Tis the season — for flu

 
By John Pastor • Published: November 9th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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It seems like children are being introduced to their A-B-C-s at increasingly younger ages, but how soon before they start learning the A-B-C-s of flu?

Well, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the first vaccinations against the seasonal scourge begin at 6 months of age.

The actual start of flu season itself is always unpredictable. The 2011 to 2012 season officially didn’t begin until late February … the latest it has arrived during the past 24 years. But it can begin as early as October or as late as May.

Do the math and that leaves only about four months where we can feel any safe distance from the aches, pains, fever and exhaustion of the flu.

Influenza viruses are classified as types A, B and C. Human types A and B cause the seasonal epidemics. They are troublesome because they are always evolving, which is why new vaccines have to be formulated each year.

About two weeks after people are vaccinated, their bodies begin building protective antibodies … provided the available formulation is accurate.

The ideal weapon against flu would be a universal vaccine that would provide protection from all the various types and subtypes. And now, for perhaps the first time, such a vaccine is in sight.

Researchers with the National Institutes of Health say they have developed a way to generate antibodies that can home in on a part of the type A and type B viruses that very rarely mutates. A vaccine that generates these antibodies has been tested in a variety of animals. It has worked against a wide range of flu viruses, including the type that caused the deadly Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.

Clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine are already under way in people.

The goal is to neutralize all the deadly members of the flu family. After that, the rest of the influenza alphabet should be much easier to master.