Can universal vaccines knock out ‘slowpoke’ flu?

"Since the influenza B Yamagata lineage is slow-evolving, we may be able to effectively eradicate it through the mass administration of the quadrivalent influenza vaccine," says Gavin Smith. (Credit: iStockphoto)

A new discovery regarding the pathogen that causes the seasonal flu may lead to more effective vaccinations—and could eventually eradicate a slow-evolving type altogether.

Analysis of 10 years’ worth of data on human influenza B viruses shows how the two influenza B virus lineages differ from one another as well as from the two influenza A virus lineages.

The two lineages, named Victoria and Yamagata, make up the four flu types that can circulate at the same time to cause seasonal epidemics. Most studies typically focus on the more common influenza A virus.

Targeted vaccinations

For the new study, published in eLife, researchers used advanced computational methodologies to analyze genomic data taken from human hosts.

Researchers also included other factors such as age to get a more in-depth look at targeted flu vaccinations for different groups.

“Our research shows that school-aged children are more susceptible than adults to influenza B virus lineages, especially the Victoria lineage,” says Vijay Dhanasekaran, assistant professor at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore.

“This younger population should be targeted for the use of the quadrivalent influenza vaccines.”

Universal vaccine

A quadrivalent or universal influenza vaccine targets all four types of flu, as compared to traditional vaccines which are composed of two influenza A lineages, only one influenza B lineage, and are generally less expensive and easier to prepare.

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The new research opens the door to eradicating the influenza B Yamagata lineage altogether, says associate professor Gavin Smith, a coauthor of the study.

“Since the influenza B Yamagata lineage is slow-evolving, we may be able to effectively eradicate it through the mass administration of the quadrivalent influenza vaccine.”

“This would then allow researchers to move forward by focusing on developing an effective trivalent influenza vaccine to target the remaining three lineages, resulting in more effective management of seasonal flu.”

Researchers from the Bioinformatics Institute at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research contributed to the work.

Source: National University of Singapore