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Flu Mutations

November 9, 2005

A new study explains why the flu vaccine can sometimes become less effective as the season wears on.


Outsmarting the flu vaccine. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Different strains of the flu virus can actually swap their genes mid-season, creating vaccine-resistant hybrids. That’s according to a five-year study of the flu viruses circulating in New York State, led by microbiologist Elodie Ghedin of The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland. She says that even a weak virus that wasn’t factored into the year’s vaccine can play a key role.

ELODIE GHEDIN (Institute for Genomic Research):
The minor one can recombine with the dominant one, to provide yet a third lineage that actually becomes dominant.

That could explain why vaccines sometimes become less effective mid-season. Ghedin says new technologies may help scientists develop more comprehensive vaccines, and to identify new strains as they emerge. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.