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The flu shot of the future

November 3, 2011 2:55:56 PM PDT
Got your shot yet? 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-thousand will be hospitalized for flu-related complications this year. Now, researchers are developing ways to take the sting out of flu shots and make sure the vaccinations work for you and your family.

From medicine to chicken soup, 61-year-old Linda Little is ready for a fight. Last winter, the flu hit home.

"It was the worst week of my life, beginning with the aches and pains, you know, you don't want to be in pain," Linda Little said.

But preventing the flu can be a pain, too.

"People don't like this. People don't like the needle," Dimitrios Koutsonanos, MD Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Emory University School of Medicine, said.

Researchers may have found a better way -- dozens of microscopic needles coated or filled with vaccine, then placed on a patch like a band-aid.

"They penetrate the skin. You do not feel any pain, and the vaccine is being delivered that way," Koutsonanos said.

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.

"They are lasting longer than the intramuscular, the systemic conventional vaccination," Ioanna Skountzou, PhD Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Emory University School of Medicine, said.

But how will you respond? 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.

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

Changing the way we fight the flu, one vaccination at a time.

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.


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