Researchers at the University of Chicago and Emory University have discovered that patients who survived the H1N1 swine flu outbreak last year developed an "unusual" immune response to their infection: their antibodies protect not only from each of the seasonal H1N1 flu strains from the past decade, but also the deadly 1918 Spanish flu virus and a strain of the H5N1 bird flu.
The findings suggest that scientists are closing in on a "universal" flu vaccine that could protect people from all types of flu for a few years—or even over a lifetime.
Flu-related deaths claim, on average, 23,600 people per year in the United States alone. Currently, vaccines are adjusted for each flu season based on the strains that doctors saw in the previous year. Doctors in the Northern Hemisphere also pay attention to trends in the Southern Hemisphere, and vice-versa, since their flu seasons occur at alternate times during the year.