February 7, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Al Hinman
ROCHESTER, New York (CNN) -- If you haven't been knocked out by the flu this year, count your blessings and keep your fingers crossed. Health officials are calling this flu season a bad one long before it's over. But future flu seasons might not be so bad, now that doctors are testing a vaccine that may work better and will be easier to take.
The testing is going on in snowy, freezing upstate New York, a fitting environment in which to battle the flu. College students in Rochester have volunteered to be exposed to the flu to help test a brand new type of influenza vaccine -- one that involves a squirt up the nose instead of a shot in a muscle.
The new nasal spray, live-virus influenza vaccine, is designed to build immunity where it's needed most, in the nose.
Doctors are trying to mimic the body's own flu defense by trying to catch and knock out the flu virus in the schnozz. "We're hoping that this sort of local immune response is going to be more effective at preventing infection with the flu virus than the kind of immune response you get with a flu shot," says Dr. John Treanor of the University of Rochester Medical School.
One of the problems with the current flu vaccine is that too few people get the yearly shot, especially children. "Children in preschool, in school, and young adults get infected with the flu and then spread it to the rest of the community," says Dr. Martin Bryant.
Each year the flu hits some 50 million people in the United States. Those at greatest risk are the elderly. People who have a compromised immune system also are encouraged to get the shots, but only about half do. And only a small fraction of healthy adults and children, the majority of the population, are immunized each year.
It's not just a fear of needles that keep people away. Doctors concede that the current vaccine does not always work. That's why researchers have volunteers turning up their noses for science. They think people are more likely to be vaccinated if they can choose a nasal spray instead of a needle.
This year's flu season will be over before doctors know the results of the new vaccine test. But developers of the genetically engineered nasal spray vaccine hope no more than one or two more flu seasons pass before you have the option of choosing a nose squirt to fend off the flu.
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