New Research Could Lead to Flu Vaccine Breakthroughs

Research developing the next generation of flu vaccines is showing promise in two areas. 

At UCLA scientists are working on a universal vaccine that will combat a variety of strains without causing the recipient to get sick.  “They’re trying to develop something that includes a larger number of flu strains,” says Dr. Edward Rensimer, an infectious disease expert with Rensimer & Associates in Houston. “That’s the new twist on flu vaccines, to get something that shotguns more of the different flu strains. Having said that, for at least five years, almost all of our influenza has been influenza A, which is fortunate because that’s what Tamiflu works against.”

At the same time, phase 1 clinical trials are moving forward at Emory University developing a flu vaccine patch.  The vaccine is contained in microneedles that are barely noticed when applied, 96% of people given them saying they felt no pain.  “That may incline people to get a vaccine who are adverse to shots,” Dr. Rensimer suggests.

As the flu continues its march through the lives of Americans in 2018, Dr. Rensimer has posted these suggestions on his website to manage the discomfort.

General Flu Vaccine

1. The very young and very old (and those with medical problems, such as heart disease, impaired immunity, and diabetes) are most at risk for serious complications and death: on average, each flu season kills 40,000 Americans.

2. No one has ever gotten flu from the flu vaccine- the routine injection vaccine is not a live vaccine and so cannot cause an infection (inhalation vaccine is live).

3. Flu vaccine is imperfect, as are all vaccines. They provide relative, not absolute, protection. If you are exposed to a huge number of flu virus particles (virions), such as with a close, direct cough or sneeze, you will almost certainly become ill with flu. However, the immunity from flu vaccine may make it a milder, shorter duration illness; may save your life.

a. The best flu vaccines (they vary year to year) are about 60% effective at preventing flu, but still may moderate the illness; 60% is better than 0%.b. Receiving flu vaccine is a civic-social act and duty. If all 325 million Americans received flu vaccine, the amount of illness (missed days at work and school) and death would absolutely dramatically decline.Take the vaccine to protect your spouse, your kids, and your grandkids if you don’t care about yourself. By protecting yourself, you are protecting those you love.

4. In Houston, flu vaccine is best taken in October or November; but anytime is worthwhile until the flu season is about over in April.

Flu Diagnosis/ Illness

1. “Rapid” flu tests are 30-40% false negative; so, only conclusive if positive for flu. If negative, it must be followed by a more reliable, more costly test.

2. If a physician suspects flu as the cause of illness, Tamiflu must be started immediately, as its chance for impact is best if started within 2-3 d of illness onset, prior to conclusive diagnosis.

3. Tamiflu is only effective against influenza A, not B. There is no anti-viral drug for flu B. For many years, influenza A has been over 95% of our flu strains.

4. Other treatment measures,

a. Ibuprofen 400-800mg three times per day for fever, headache, and bodyaches.b. Symptom-specific meds: cough, nausea, congestion, painc. Hydration: You are adequately hydrating if you are not thirsty, you sweat with fever, and you urinate frequently (every 1-2H) urine with almost no color or odor. (Check with your physician on the safest rate of rehydration if you have heart, kidney, liver disease, or high blood pressure)d. Fever: Most who die from flu are very old and do so because of the strain high fever imposes on their aged blood vessels, causing fatal heart attacks and strokes.Minimization of fever in the elderly and the very young may be life-critical and is to be done proactively, not reactively (after high fever has occurred). —-

1. Tylenol (every 4H) or ibuprofen (every 8H), by the clock, while the patient is ill. (read dosing precautions on the medicine bottle)2. Warm showers or baths frequently (immersion rapidly conducts heat out of the body).3. Avoid “bundling up” with blankets or clothing- cover up just for comfort, to keep uncomfortable cold drafts away from the patient. The more coverage, the more retained heat, the higher the fever.4. Cool or neutral temperature liquids ingested in high volumes will lower core temperature and produce sweat to evaporate heat from the body surface.For all others fever control is a matter of personal comfort, not medical criticality. In fact, fever is of benefit in fighting infection; a tool we were evolved to have with infections.5. Post-Flu Illness: If a flu patient appears to have recovered but, within 1-3 weeks, develops new problems (fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, profound weakness), they should immediately be evaluated by their physician for the possibility of secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, which is a worrisome complication.6. Flu Vaccine For Flu Contacts: Anyone ill with flu should notify all those who were in close contact with them the prior week in order to immediately receive flu vaccine if they had not already. It may be effective at generating some immunity within a week, certainly by two; may prevent or significantly moderate illness. This is “ring” vaccination — creates an immunity ring around the “index case” to diminish flu propagation through the community.7. You do not have flu if you DO NOT HAVE FEVER.


1. Flu is mainly spread by cough/ sneezing and hand contact.2. Flu patients shed flu virus up to a week after the end of illness; perhaps longer the weaker the underlying immune system, such as in those over 75 years-old.3. To minimize spread,

a. Avoid contact with others when ill (such as at work or school), especially the very young, the very old, or those with major medical problems.b. Wear a respiratory mask (preferably N-95 from a pharmacy or medical supply store for exposed “contacts” and a plain respiratory mask for the ill patient) as much as possible when ill.c. Cleanse/ wash hands routinely and frequently throughout the day from illness onset until 2 weeks after becoming well (soap and water, alcohol, etc.).d. Once the diagnosis is established as flu A by tests (or even prior if flu is very highly suspected), all close contacts, such as those sharing air-space at work and household contacts or who have spent significant social time with the ill individual, should take Tamiflu once-a-day for 10 days (preventive dose), possibly longer if very old or otherwise immune-compromised.

Edward R. Rensimer, MD

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