Facing the flu through time

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Genes Foretell Flu Shot Response / View Guide

1. Specific strains of flu virus that are circulating in some years are more dangerous than others. Can you find an article about the 1918 flu strain and what made it so deadly? 

Possible student response: The article “Killer findings: scientists piece together 1918-flu virus,” published 10/8/2005, discusses how a group of scientists pieced together parts of the genetic instruction manual, or genome,  of the 1918-flu strain from the remains of people who had died from infections caused by that strain. Another group of researchers used the partial genome to make a virus similar to the 1918-flu strain. Analyses of the lab-made virus suggested that the 1918-flu strain was similar to modern bird flu strains. They successfully infected lab animals and human cells with the reconstructed flu and studied its effects. From these experiments, the researchers identified the versions of the RNA polymerase gene and the hemagglutinin gene in the 1918 strain as being important for its virulence compared with most other flu strains.

2. Can you find an article that offers a possible alternative to administering a flu shot without a large needle?

Possible student response: The article “Getting a flu ‘shot’ could soon be as easy as sticking on a Band-Aid,” published 8/5/2017, discusses how the flu vaccine can be delivered by a bandage on the skin instead of a large needle. The side of the bandage that touches the skin is covered with microneedles that are each a little more than half a millimeter long. Those microneedles penetrate the skin to deliver the flu vaccine and then harmlessly dissolve. The bandage could make it easier to store and deliver flu vaccines, and ensure that a greater percentage of people would get the flu vaccine each year.

3. In the article, “Genes foretell flu shot response,” researchers were unable to identify genes that could improve how well flu vaccines work in people who are 60 or older. Can you find an article that explains how flu shots could be improved for the elderly?  

Possible student response: The article “Elderly benefit from high-dose flu shot,” published 10/4/2014, discusses a study of flu vaccines for 30,000 people 60 and older during 2010–2011. The immune system gets weaker as people age, making it harder for the immune system to “learn” from a vaccine and then protect a person from the corresponding real virus. Flu shots that contain larger amounts of flu protein than normal shots may reduce the number vaccinated people who still manage to catch the flu by about 25 percent, lab tests suggest. Side effects of the high-dose flu shot were reported to be minor.