There are over dozens of volunteers who are getting the flu on purpose by allowing scientists to squirt the live virus straight inside their noses. This might sound very strange, but the uncommon type of research is one step closer in trying to find better flu vaccines. These tests are showing that how the body fights off the influenza virus still is a mystery of some sort. The lead physician of the study, Dr. Matthew Memoli, who works for the National Institutes of Health, hopes to infect at least 100 adults over the next year, states that vaccines work but that they could do a lot better.
Scientists stated they could not study individuals who are already ill from the flu because that does not allow them to measure how the immune system reacts to the illness from every single stage of infection, and that means beginning with the very first contact to the virus. So this is not some test that can be taken nonchalantly. Each year the flu ends up killing thousands of Americans. So for safety sake, Memoli picked a dosage that produced only mild to moderate symptoms, and would only take volunteers who were healthy and not any over the age of 50.
In order so they would not spread any germs, the participants that have already went through the test had to spend at least nine days secluded inside a special seclusion ward at the NIH hospital. They had their health very closely monitored. None of the volunteers were released until nasal tests showed they were not contagious any longer. Their personal incentive to do such a thing, they received around $3,000 to reimburse them for what they went through and for their time.
In order to keep from getting the flu, the best defense against it is getting the yearly vaccine, but that is far from perfect. In fact, the vaccine is found to be the least effective in individuals who are age 65 and older, the age group that is most vulnerable to the flu. This is probably due to the immune system weakening as people get older. So if scientists can learn how younger adults are able to fight off the flu might help them figure out what the much more defenseless elderly are missing. These would give clues to help aid in developing better vaccines for everyone.
Even in the study, some people failed to become ill, despite having abnormally low antibody levels. So that meant something else must have been protecting them. To find out, Memoli first had to create a copy of the H1N1 strain of flu in the lab and put different size amounts into the volunteers’ noses until he was able to find the correct dose in which to trigger a mild case of the flu. He also wants to eventually test the harsher flu strain of H3N2.
As of this time, the majority of Memoli’s patients were showing signs of becoming contagious about one to two days before they began to start feeling sick. This is one reason the flu is able to spread so effortlessly. The doctor was taking note of a range of symptoms, from having the sniffles to a moderate fever, congestion and fatigue. Because of these volunteers who are getting the flu on purpose, they may help make the flu vaccine better for everyone.
By Kimberly Ruble
The Star Tribune
The Washington Post
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