The flu shot of the future

Flu season is gearing up and getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself. Up to 20 percent of Americans will be infected, and more than 200,000 will be hospitalized for flu-related complications this year.

Today, researchers are developing ways to take the sting out of flu shots and make sure the vaccinations work for you and your family.

Researchers may have found an alternative method; dozens of microscopic needles coated or filled with vaccine, then placed on a patch like a band-aid. The patches penetrate the skin, pain-free.

For the vaccine to kick in, you wear the micro-needle patch for less than 10 minutes. In a new study, it was as effective as a shot, providing even better protection.

Ioanna Skountzou, Associate Professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine, says the patches are “lasting longer than the intramuscular, systemic conventional vaccination."

A new blood test measures changes in blood cells in the first days after a flu shot and can predict whether the vaccination will actually work.

Bali Pulendran, Professor of pathology at Emory Yerkes Research Center says, "Essentially, we would know, within say a week, whether this person will achieve a certain level of protection that would be necessary for protection."

The micro-needle patches and the vaccination efficacy test are still experimental, but researchers believe they could be available to the public within the next five years.

RESEARCH SUMMARY

Background: seasonal influenza, commonly called "the flu," is caused by influenza viruses, which infect the respiratory tract (the nose, throat, and lungs). Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people. Flu seasons can be unpredictable and severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of annual flu-associated deaths in the u.s. Range from about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a vaccination each year. (source: www.cdc.gov)

causes: flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly or pick up the germs from an object such as a telephone or computer keyboard and then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth. (source: mayo clinic)

Symptoms: initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. However, colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. Although a cold can be a nuisance, you usually feel much worse with the flu. Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
• fever over 100 degrees fahrenheit
• aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
• chills and sweats
• headache
• dry cough
• fatigue and weakness
• nasal congestion

The patch: development of the new microneedle vaccine patch began in 2007. There are several advantages of the patch. First, vaccine delivery into the skin is desirable because of the skin's rich immune network. Other advantages include more convenient storage, simple administration, easier transportation and lower dosage requirements. These advantages may make it possible for patients to apply the patches themselves without specialized training. In addition, replacing a hypodermic needle with the patch could be beneficial in developing countries. The patch could fit inside an envelope for delivery by the postal service and would occupy much less storage space. The patches would also increase vaccine safety by reducing the dangers of accidental or intentional re-use of a hypodermic needle. (source: www.sciencedaily.com)


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