The field of influenza vaccines is undergoing a genuine renewal, not only in the form of products but also conceptually, aiming to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of influenza vaccines and achieve better acceptability of vaccination. This has been affirmed by the experts in Microbiology present at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Microbiology and Health (AMYS).

In this sense, Doctor Ramón Cisterna, president of AMYS, points out that work is being done to obtain a universal flu vaccine, which will serve to prevent any type of flu infection and also improve this annual dependence on vaccination.

Along the same lines, Raúl Ortiz de Lejarazu, member of the board of directors of AMYS and scientific advisor and director emeritus of the National Influenza Centre, believes that with research and scientific support it is possible to achieve, although he adds, “in principle it may be easier to find a universal vaccine for influenza produced by the B virus since it only has human hosts and its mutation rate (changes) is significantly lower than the virus type A/subtypeH3”.

Until then, Dr. Ortiz de Lejarazu clarifies that the current vaccine is the best way to prevent influenza: “Three years ago the World Health Organization (WHO) formulated five- and ten-year horizons to have influenza vaccines that would protect for longer and could be applied, both in developed countries and in those with fewer resources.

At the moment there are several approaches that are aimed at increasing effectiveness; some are based on the use of adjuvants, others on expanding the antigen load contained in vaccines. Similarly, measures such as delaying the start of vaccination campaigns can attenuate the evanescence of antibodies in immune-compromised individuals.

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New diagnostic technology

The difficulty of differentiating influenza from other respiratory viruses due to the fact that they produce similar pictures, causes the number of people affected to increase every year, causing complications or even death. For this reason, experts have analysed the different diagnostic platforms that allow the virus responsible for this respiratory infection to be identified more quickly and accurately in order to be able to act accordingly.

During the meeting the application of new technologies in the diagnosis of influenza was discussed, “absolutely essential today to ensure a correct, safe and rapid diagnosis,” said Dr. Cisterna, who said that for some years now have been using diagnostic systems based on molecular techniques.

Currently there is a wide experience in the use of these methods, which are being improved to the point of being extended to other techniques, such as molecular sequencing that even allows to know the extent of antigenic variations. As the president of the AMYS has emphasized, “the most used techniques are oriented to the detection of nucleic acids, although in some cases they also serve to identify with greater accuracy the type of influenza virus involved, confirming the results obtained by other technologies”.

Challenges to influenza

In spite of the fact that every year in Spain nearly half a million people suffer from it, causing 50,000 hospitalisations and 6,000 deaths, the flu is clinically undervalued. “Given that catarrhal processes are frequent and are confused with the flu, the population thinks that the vaccine is not effective, and that even if they get vaccinated they still get the disease, when in reality they are going through a catarrhal process”, pointed out Ángel Gil de Miguel, member of the board of directors of the AMYS and Professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health of the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (URJC).

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Dr. Gil de Miguel explains that when a flu is passed the affectation is serious, especially if it is a person vulnerable by the presence of chronic diseases. Therefore, he clarifies that in these cases the only preventive measure is the vaccine, “whose main purpose is precisely to avoid the serious forms and complications of the disease.

Faced with this situation, Dr. Ortiz de Lejarazu suggests adopting the model present in the United States, where the vaccine is administered widely. “The U.S. is the country in the world with the most flu vaccine, so it is an example to follow. Unfortunately, even if microbiologists can develop a broad response vaccine, that vaccine won’t work if it’s not given.