This year’s flu season is taking its toll. One of the most severe in recent history, it is affecting everyone alike, from those immunized in the fall to young children. The vaccines that were administered in the fall of 2003 were designed in May. Since then, however, the flu virus has mutated. It is this mutation in the virus that is causing the vaccine to be so ineffective in preventing the flu. The flu vaccine was designed to protect against a few varying strains of the influenza virus. Influenza is the family of viruses that cause the flu. The virus however has mutated since the vaccine went into that cause the flu. The virus however has mutated since the vaccine went into production. A few of the proteins that lie on the outer surface of the cell have changed – these changes in the proteins make it much more difficult for antibodies to attack the virus. This process, known as “antigenic drift,” allows for the virus to easily spread through both those who are immunized and those who are not. These changes in the virus occurred after the vaccine went into production. Consequently, the vaccine is not equipped to deal with these changes – in 1997, antigenic drift was blamed for that year’s sever flu season.The flu is also greatly affecting children, especially those three and under. This year’s family of influenza viruses occurred in the United States in the last three years, so children under the age of three have not yet been exposed to the strain and have not developed the antibodies and immunity needed to fight the virus. “The immune systems of young kids are being caught off guard this year,” John Treanor, M.D. and director of the Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit at UR said in a press release. “Young children who get influenza are at higher risk for becoming seriously ill and developing other complications. That’s why we’re hearing more reports of very sick infants and toddlers, and why we have been urging parents to have their kids immunized.”The vaccine is not completely ineffective against the influenza virus, however. Despite the mutation, the vaccine administered before this fall should offer a degree of protection, although researchers are uncertain of how great the level of protection will be with the most recent vaccine will provide. Those who received the vaccine nasally, in a form which is less suceptible to the virus’s mutations, are thought to have greater immunity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, located at UR, one of seven federally sponsored centers throughout the nation, provides national protection in the field of infectious diseases. The center works on the treatment and vaccination of diseases such as the flu, smallpox, whooping cough, pneumonia, malaria, and tuberculosis.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started to recommend however that all children six months to 23 months be vaccinated.Pisarski can be reached at apisarski@campustimes.org.



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