NIH chief predicts universal flu vaccine in five years

Francis Collins, the chief of the National Institutes of Health, is "guardedly optimistic" that a universal flu vaccine protecting against all flu strains may be within reach in the next five years.
This long-term shot would replace the annual shots that are developed for specific flu viruses, USA Today reports. Collins cited the long-term flu shot as one of multiple advances coming from NIH research at a time when budget debates underway in Washington, D.C., could trim the organization's $31 billion budget.
The idea of a universal flu vaccine seemed out of reach in the past because flu viruses mutate yearly, which cause small changes in surface coatings, making old vaccines obsolete. New findings about the unchanging parts of the virus have lead to new hope of an all-inclusive vaccine.
"There are parts of the viral coat that don't change," Collins said, according to USA Today. "If you designed a vaccine to go after the constant part of the virus, you'd be protected against all strains."
Close to 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu every year and an estimated 3,000 to 49,000 die, which makes the flu one of the main causes of preventable death in the United States.
Collins mentioned other advances springing from biomedical research as well, including Alzheimer's studies that suggest inflammation, rather than brain-tangling proteins, trigger many cases of dementia, diabetes research that exercise and nutrition coaching is more effective at checking symptoms than drug research, and that screening everybody in the country for HIV could lead to early treatment to prevent some of the 56,000 new cases each year.

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