It’s widely accepted that the flu and the torrent of uncomfortable symptoms that come with it are to be avoided at all costs.
But a few selfless souls have signed up to get the the infection so that one day, perhaps none of us will have to endure it ever again – and they get paid, too.
Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are infecting willing subjects with influenza A (the infamous H1N1 virus, which has caused pandemics) and closely monitoring their symptoms to better understand how the virus works and how to control it.
For a handsome sum of up to $3,300, 80 adult participants across four research facilities will receive a nasal spray with the virus and spend at least one week at an inpatient facility until they’ve stopped “shedding” the virus – that is, potentially infecting other people.
As volunteers cough, heave, sleep and shiver, researchers hope to glean how levels of preexisting flu antibodies will impact the duration and severity of participants’ flu symptoms.
The study runs now until May (the long end of a typical flu season) at vaccine research units at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development in Missouri, Duke University in North Carolina and Ohio’s Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The flu can be fatal
Understanding how the flu operates is vital to defeating it: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 36,400 to 61,200 people died from the flu in the United States between October 2018 and May 2019, and more than half a million people were hospitalized.
The flu can turn deadly when there are other infections involved, when it aggravates another health condition or when there’s an overwhelming immune response to the infection. It’s linked to serious complications including pneumonia, heart attack and sepsis.
Though annual flu vaccines aren’t foolproof – scientists and doctors can’t be sure which strain will reign each flu season – they’re the best way to avoid the infection and stop its spread. Those infected with the flu can treat it with antiviral drugs that shorten its duration and severity.