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UI seeks new ways to prevent flu

BY MICHELLE McCONNAUGHEY | FEBRUARY 10, 2011 7:10 AM

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Jenna Heide is constantly sick.

Though the University of Iowa freshman received a flu shot over winter break, she’s consistently unhealthy.

“Literally, I have a cold 24/7, or at least symptoms or a stuffy nose,” she said.

Even with vaccinations, local health-care experts said exposure to different strains of the flu not protected by every vaccine commonly causes symptoms such as Heide’s.

One group of researchers at the UI is looking to combat this problem.

The UI Vaccine Trial Research and Education Office is testing a potentially stronger and more comprehensive seasonal-flu medication.

Jack Stapleton, a UI professor of infectious diseases and one of the researchers testing the new medication, said the study began Tuesday and could prove very beneficial.

“There are limited options when treating influenza,” he said. “But this would be great if it worked.”

The medication Stapleton is testing is a licensed drug used to treat other diseases such as cryptosporidium, a gastrointestinal disease. Researchers found the drug inhibits influenza in a test-tube setting, something Stapleton said is promising.

UI Student Health is also working to prevent increasing flu strains with a more comprehensive vaccine.

When making the vaccines for 2010-11, researchers included the top three strains of the virus that they felt would be most common: H1N1, Influenza B, and H3N2.

Local experts said Iowa City has had a mild flu season, but according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, Region 7 of the United States, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, had a 33 percent increase in flu cases since the start of 2011.

Student Health officials said researchers are in the process of making next year’s flu vaccines, which will be stronger than ever.

The 2011-12 influenza vaccines will be available in both mist and shot form. Flu Mist, the live viral vaccine administered intranasally, will be available in August, and in October, the injectable vaccine will be available at Student Health.

Because of the high mutation rate of the influenza virus, the vaccine is effective for about a year.

The World Health Organization coordinates the contents of the vaccine each year to contain the most likely strains of the virus to attack the next year, said Mary Beth Kelch, the Student Health nurse manager.

She thinks it is important for everyone, especially those on a large campus, to be vaccinated, she said.

“I think we are all stronger when more people receive the vaccine,” Kelch said. “That means there will be fewer influenza cases if the vaccine contains the current strain of influenza that is in the predominant circulating virus.”


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