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Study backs high-dose flu vaccines for elderly

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CHICAGO, Illnois (Reuters) -- Elderly people, whose immune responses typically weaken with age, can be safely protected against common influenza with doses of vaccine that are up to four times stronger than usual, researchers said Monday.

The report from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, said most reactions to the more potent doses of vaccine were mild. The biggest complaints involved discomfort, redness or swelling at the site of the injection in those who got the strongest shots.

But increasing the strength of the vaccine also brought consistent improvements in immune responses, concluded the study published in the current Archives of Internal Medicine.

The elderly "are among the most vulnerable to serious complications of influenza because they generally have more underlying diseases and weaker immune systems than younger people," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which financed the study.

"These findings are an important first step in developing new strategies to better protect the elderly against influenza-associated hospitalizations and mortality," he added.

In the United States seasonal flu causes 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations every year, affecting up to 20 percent of the population.

The Baylor study involved 202 adults with an average age of 77 who received seasonal flu vaccine at normal doses and at doses twice and four times more potent than normal.

Blood tests showed that those who had received the strongest dose had 44 to 79 percent higher levels of flu antibody after they were inoculated than did those who received the normal dose of vaccine, the study found.

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