Each year the flu kills 36,000 people and hospitalizes 200,000 more in the United States. All in all, about 20% Americans are affected by the flu each year. The flu kills roughly a quarter-million people worldwide each year and this year appears to be a bit worse. According to Reuters on Friday, “Influenza has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with 7.3 percent of deaths last week caused by pneumonia and the flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said…That is above the epidemic threshold of 7.2 percent, CDC said. Nine of the 10 regions of the United States had ‘elevated’ flu activity, confirming that seasonal flu has spread across the country and reached high levels several weeks before the usual time of late January or February.” As of January 5, the flu is widespread in every state, except California and Mississippi. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm

The predominant strain of flu this year is an influenza A (H3N2) virus, which has accounted for 76 percent of the reported viruses. Flu experts predicted which of the flu strains circulating in Asia would be most likely to cause disease in this flu season. As a result, the CDC says the current batch of flu vaccines appear to be a good match for this year's flu. So far, 91% of flu viruses analyzed by the CDC match flu strains contained in this year's vaccine. However, Sanofi SA, which is the largest flu vaccine provider in the US, said it had sold out of four of the six different dosages of Fluzone seasonal flu vaccine due to unanticipated late-season demand and is not able to make any more vaccines because they are already preparing for next year’s vaccine. So people who haven’t yet been vaccinated, and now want to, have to search for available vaccines.

In 2009 a pair of NIH-funded discoveries, found antibodies that that attach to a vulnerable region in a broad range of influenza A viruses and changed game on the defense and treatment of the flu. Researchers from the Scripts Research Institute in La Jolla, (Antibody Recognition of a Highly Conserved Influenza Virus Epitope) found the characterization of an immune system molecule that targets what appears to be an "Achilles heel" of a wide range of influenza viruses. The discovery of the molecule, an antibody known as CR6261, was a big step in the design a flu vaccine that would give humans lifelong protection against a majority of influenza viruses. Additionally, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School found ten antibodies that proved active against the 4 major strains of H5N1 avian influenza viruses. (Structural and functional bases for broad-spectrum neutralization of avian and human influenza A viruses) Three of these monoclonal antibodies also neutralized representative strains of other known influenza A viruses in cell cultures. The researchers determined the atomic structure of the region on the flu virus where the monoclonal antibodies bind. This genetically stable, hidden part of the virus is located on the narrow stem of the hemagglutinin (HA) protein, 1 of the 2 main surface proteins on the influenza virus.

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