Flu Prevention

It seems to me….

Vaccination is the single most important step people can take to protect themselves from influenza.” ~ Tom Frieden[1].

Simply because a deadly global pandemic has not occurred in recent history shouldn’t be mistaken for evidence that a deadly pandemic will not occur in the future[2]. An arsenal of new weapons is essential; vaccines, drugs, diagnostics…; so as to be prepared for when it happens. The cost of preventing an epidemic is only about 10 percent of what it would cost to actually cope with one.

A logical place to begin might be with the influenza virus which is globally responsible for as many as half a million deaths per year. Part of the problem is due to the only partial efficacy of each year’s flu shot coupled with long manufacturing times and limited global availability. Every year the rapidly evolving influenza picks up mutations preventing our antibodies to no longer recognize the virus.

Unfortunately, we are not prepared to adequately respond to even a severe cycle such as this year, 2017-2018. Already inadequate U.S. Public Health Emergency preparedness programs have had funding reduced by 60 percent since 2003.

Flu immunization rates are only about 50 percent. Vaccine effectiveness in any given season is normally between 10 and 60 percent depending upon the prevalent strain of flu. It can result just in the U.S. each year of 36 million infections, 200,000 hospitalizations, and 36,000 deaths costing the U.S. economy about $87 billion/year. And this is just in normal years. While there have not been any recent severe pandemics, health officials assure us it is just a matter of time before the next one hits with devastating consequences.

To be effective, vaccination rates must approach 95 percent to establish a so-called “herd immunity” necessary to provide protection to those not able to be vaccinated due to personal medical conditions. Most communities have about this 95 percent inoculation rate among children starting kindergarten but the rate is much lower in some areas of the country – namely Colorado and California. Increasing numbers of parents refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated though inoculations have repeatedly been proven to be safe. Incongruently, these parents are primarily both well-educated and comparatively affluent.

Researchers have long sought a universal flu vaccine that does not need to be re‑administered every year. Efforts to produce one tend to involve injecting noninfectious flu lookalikes in hopes that they will prime the immune system to mount a proper attack on whatever real strain of flu they see next. Despite some progress, researchers have so far only managed to achieve limited progress and are not yet able to coax the immune system to defend against all strains of influenza.

Rather than relying on the immune system to generate an antibody protein capable of shutting down a virus like the flu, computational protein design could enable computer modeling to quickly create custom antiviral proteins programmed to shut down a deadly virus. Unlike a vaccine, this class of drug could be administered to treat an existing infection or be given days prior to exposure to prevent one. Designing an antiviral protein on a computer, building it in the laboratory, and then administering it into the body is effectively digitizing part of the immune system. Initial tests using mice indicate computer-generated proteins might be considerably more effective than current medications.

Less than half of young Americans get a yearly immunization shot and apparently 20 percent continue to ignorantly believe the disproven myth that vaccines can cause autism. Anyone failing to get a yearly immunization not only jeopardizes their own health, they are irresponsibly also doing so for everyone else by preventing establishment of a herd-immunity within the population base.

While progress is being made, it will still be a number of years prior to any new technology is approved for human use. Approval is not initially required for a proof-of-concept detection system that could be transformed into a reliable and affordable on-site diagnostic tool for a variety of viruses by detecting them in saliva or blood. Let’s hope we have that much time.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Thomas R. Frieden is an American infectious disease and public health expert, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and acting administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

[2] Haydon, Ian. Designing Antiviral Proteins Via Computer Could Help Halt the Next Pandemic, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/designing-antiviral-proteins-via-computer-could-help-halt-the-next-pandemic/?WT.mc_id=SA_TECH_20170613, 13 June 2017.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Antiviral, Budget, California, Colorado, Computer, Diagnose, Diagnostics, Disease, Epidemic, Flu, Funding, Health, Health, Healthcare, Herd Immunity, Hospitalization, Iinfluenza, Illness, Immune, Immunization, Infection, Medical, medical, Medication, Pandemic, Pathogens, Treatment, Vaccine, Virus and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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