According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annual flu epidemics are thought to result in between 3-5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and between 250,000-500,000 deaths each year.
Flu is a mild to severe respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year with flu antibodies.
The seasonal flu shot protects against three or four influenza viruses that research indicates will be the most common during the upcoming season. The vaccines work by causing antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies bind to the virus and prevent it from infecting cells.
However, the problem with finding a universal vaccine for flu illness is that the virus responsible changes and mutates very rapidly, making previous antibodies largely ineffective against new mutant forms of the virus.
Researchers have now uncovered a class of antibodies that are capable of training the body’s immune system to detect that part of the virus which remains the same each year. This could pave the way for a universal flu vaccine that requires only one injection with lifelong protective effects. Since one part of the virus is always recognizable, even if the virus changes and mutates, the body can safeguard itself against flu.
A universal flu vaccine could prevent mismatches between the vaccine and circulating viruses, and it could protect against all flu strains and the occurrence of flu pandemics. The new vaccine would generate the most desirable types of antibodies and avoid antibodies that block the functions that we want.