Is influenza the next smallpox?

Researchers have come one step closer to finding a lifetime vaccination for the dreaded flu virus – and all its permutations to come.

The golden nugget was unearthed by research teams from the University of Melbourne working with the Shanghai Public Health Centre in China, who identified what they’re calling “killer T-cells”, which obliterate disease early on.

By studying the outcomes of patients with the deadly H7N9 bird flu virus, scientists found people who had these killer T-cells recovered more quickly than those who didn’t. In 2013, 99 per cent of those who contracted the disease in China required hospitalisation, 30 per cent died.

The researchers are hoping to use a component of the disease fighting T-cell to develop a one-shot vaccine that provides lifetime immunity.

Associate Professor Katherine Kedzierska from Melbourne University told the ABC, “We’re aiming for a vaccine that can recognise all the influenza strains, viruses that circulate obviously in humans, as well as in animals, birds, pigs, so we have at least some level of protection”.

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So far in our lifetime we’ve seen incredible advances in vaccinations. Measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox are no longer considered common diseases. Even HPV and Hepatitis-B are preventable with prophylactic medicine.

The biggest recent win for doctors and scientists at the forefront of this medicine is wiping out polio.

Research began on the polio vaccine in the fifties and by 1994 America was declared polio-free. Europe followed in 2004 and work continues in developing nations to eradicate the virus that causes polio all together.

The smallpox vaccination was the first successful vaccine to be developed. It was introduced in 1798 and provided immunity to the disease by administering a minuscule dose of related cowpox. Smallpox was eradicated in 1984.

The quest for an effective flu vaccination is complicated by the way the virus changes its surface structure, hence the current need for a seasonal flu vaccination.


Which childhood diseases do you remember that are no longer around?