In short order every few years a new flu strain evolves that many say threatens to disrupt civilization as we know it. With super bug fears rising every year, some say the next superbug could be the one that finally mimics the Spanish flu and kills millions. Of course these diseases are often seen as nothing more than an inconvenience. But fear them or merely dislike them, a new vaccine may soon be available that removes the flu from our lives forever.
The logic of the vaccine is as follows: there are two largely recognizable parts of a flu virus, the head and the stem. In using an analogy comparing the flu virus to an ice-cream cone we can discover how the vaccine works. The head of the virus is similar to the ice cream contained in the cone. The flavors or genetic variations of the virus change from one generation to the next, making it difficult to predict what will be coming next. Meanwhile, despite the flavors of virus being different the cone is always the same, and rarely changes. This new vaccine will target the thing that makes all flu viruses similar by making the body produce antibodies that fight specifically against it.
Scientists for years have had difficulty combating the rapidly mutating flus partially because of how different they can be from year to year and even from month to month. When H1N1 first hit the US, 24 hour news coverage soon decreed that it could be a disaster of national proportions. In retrospect, many have come forward saying these reports were hasty while others contend that H1N1 was never more than a few mutations away from becoming a serious problem. And a mere five years earlier the Bird flu H5N1 was seen as a potential killer that could mutate into something quite deadly and cause the same level of devastation. If every five years a flu is going to come around that threatens civilization as we know it, then a universal flu vaccine is certainly a worthy endeavor.
And that vaccine may soon be developed thanks to the efforts of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and its director, Anthony S. Fauci. Fauci has found a way to create antibodies in animals that neutralize several different strains of the disease and provide protection that could last for ten years. Given that somewhere around 36,000 people in the US die annually of the common flu, this would be a milestone achievement. A single vaccine is expected to last for ten years, meaning up to 360,000 lives could be saved right away. And that’s only taking into account deaths in the United States. Globally the disease claims up to 500,000 lives annually, meaning up to five million could be saved over one ten year period if the vaccine works. And this is just taking into consideration the standard flu. A super flu that could cause widespread devastation in a pandemic scenario could soon become a thing of the past.