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One vaccine against two deadliest respiratory diseases in the world – influenza and pneumococcal infections won’t know what hit them

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Posted May 20, 2019

Vaccines are becoming more specialized. They work better and rarely cause unwanted side effects, but you need more of them. Scientists from the University of Adelaide decided to go a different route and developed a single vaccination approach to simultaneously combat influenza and pneumococcal infections, which are the deadliest respiratory diseases in the world.

This is what an influenza virus would look like, but every year we are facing different mutations that require different vaccines. Image credit: NIAID via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

We already have pretty good vaccines, but they do have certain limitations. They target surface molecules that are affected by mutations. This means that influenza vaccines have to be updated annually according to the most dominant mutation of the virus. This means that vaccines are not very adaptable, but they do work longer and provide excellent protection during the flu season. However, this protection is not without its own flaws – it covers only a minority of disease-causing strains, which means that many people are still affected by flu. And influenza infections sometimes lead to severe pneumococcal pneumonia, which is known for its high mortality rates.

This made scientists think that we desperately need better vaccines. Scientists found that the new Influenza A virus vaccine, which is currently under development, in combination with the new class of pneumococcal vaccine induced enhanced cross-protective immunity to different influenza strains. This combination of drugs works on the principle that there is a link between the virus and the bacterium.

These vaccines are targeting components of both the virus and the bacterium that do not vary from strain to strain. Dr Mohammed Alsharifi, one of the leaders of the study, said: “Despite this well-known synergism, current vaccination strategies target the individual pathogens. We’re investigating combining our novel influenza and pneumococcal vaccines into a single vaccination approach and have demonstrated a highly significant enhancement of immune responses against diverse subtypes of influenza”.

You think flu is not that bad? Well, you’re wrong. Most people don’t even know about the Spanish flu – an epidemic, when influenza virus and pneumococcus worked together to cause up to 100 million deaths in 1918-1919. Now we have ways to prevent such outbreaks, but we have to continue working to improve our weapons. Combination vaccines could become the next big thing only if this idea is confirmed by further studies. So we can only keep our fingers crossed.

 

Source: University of Adelaide

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