Four in 10 Britons immune to flu symptoms, leading to hopes of a new vaccine

43 per cent of unvaccinated people had immune cells meaning they will not experience traditional flu symptoms

Alexandra Sims
Tuesday 16 June 2015 10:17 BST
43 per cent of Britons had immune flu cells and will not experience symptoms
43 per cent of Britons had immune flu cells and will not experience symptoms (Tom Merton/Getty Creative)

Almost half of Britons are immune to flu symptoms, according to new research, boosting anticipation of a new vaccine that could use our natural resistance to fight epidemics.

A four year study, carried out by researchers at University College London and Oxford University, found that 43 per cent of the unvaccinated people tested had immune cells, meaning they will not experience influenza symptoms such as coughs, headaches and fever.

This means that despite carrying the virus their chances of passing on the illness are reduced by two thirds.

Roughly half of people developed these high levels of immunity from exposure to flu earlier in life, protecting them from both seasonal and pandemic flu.

This research has ignited hopes that a vaccine could be created reducing the intensity and spread of seasonal flu, but could also be used to treat more severe strains such as bird and swine flu.

The study found that people with natural immunity to flu produce “T cells” which fight and control infections by targeting influenza’s core structural protein.

This differs from traditional vaccines which only target the outside of the virus. As the outside proteins of flu change every year this means that the flu vaccine must be constantly updated.

The proteins at the centre of the flu virus are much more stable meaning this new immunity could lead to a vaccine which could work for multiple years and be stockpiled.

Professor Andrew Hayward, co-lead author and UCL’s Farr Institute of Health Informatics, said: 'Current flu vaccines help us make antibodies that target the proteins on the outside of a flu virus. These evolve gradually from from year to year and dramatically in the event of a pandemic making it hard for the public health community and vaccine manufacturers to keep up.'

'This was illustrated last year, when the seasonal flu vaccine was much less effective than normal. It’s also why we don’t have vaccine available at the start of a flu pandemic when it would be most useful.”

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