A new vaccine — that doesn’t actually target the flu — could soon save the nearly 3,700 people annually who die from the virus.
Researchers at the University of Toronto have tried this new approach, a vaccine that stops fluid from leaking into the lungs, and have found success in warding off the worst of the symptoms, which lead to 200,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S. alone.
Scientists and doctors have recommended flu vaccines for years, but the seasonal virus still affects hundreds of thousands of people. For one, scientists have to guess which strain of the flu will be the most prevalent months in advance, and that has caused the vaccine to be somewhat unreliable. Plus, because of that, a lot of people don’t bother to get the shot.
But the new approach wouldn’t be dependent on a particular strain. It would instead help the lungs remain healthy, giving people more time to fight the virus before it becomes really, really serious.
The Toronto scientists tried it in mice, which were injected with three different strains of the flu and were having symptoms. In all, 70 percent of the mice survived past the 72-hour mark. The results were published in Scientific Reports.
While the new approach seems to be working, scientists haven’t abandoned their push for people to take the flu vaccine, especially those who have weakened immune systems. After all, if the new drug buys people time, it may not buy enough for those who are already the most vulnerable.