Medical Minute 10-17: Patch it Up: The Flu Shot of the Future

By: Andrew McIntosh Email
By: Andrew McIntosh Email

"The idea is to be prepared, because when I'm sick, I may not feel like going to the store."

From medicine… to chicken soup… 61-year-old Linda Little is ready for a fight. Last winter, the flu hit home.

"It was the worst week of my life, beginning with the aches and pains, you know, you don't want to be in pain," said Linda Little.

But preventing the flu can be a pain, too.

"People don't like this. People don't like the needle."

Researchers may have found a better way -- dozens of microscopic needles coated or filled with vaccine, then placed on a patch like a Band-Aid.

"They penetrate the skin. You do not feel any pain, and the vaccine is being delivered that way."

For the vaccine to kick in, you wear the micro-needle patch for less than 10 minutes. In a new study, it was as effective as a shot, providing even better protection.

"They are lasting longer than the intramuscular, the systemic conventional vaccination," said Ioanna Skountzou, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Emory University School of Medicine.

But how will you respond? A new blood test measures changes in blood cells in the first days after a flu shot and can predict whether the vaccination will actually work.

"Essentially, we would know, within say a week, whether this person will achieve a certain level of protection that would be necessary for protection," said Bali Pulendran, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology Emory Yerkes Research.

Changing the way we fight the flu, one vaccination at a time.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Seasonal influenza, commonly called "the flu," is caused by influenza viruses, which infect the respiratory tract (the nose, throat, and lungs). Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people. Flu seasons can be unpredictable and severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of annual flu-associated deaths in the U.S. range from about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a vaccination each year. (SOURCE:

CAUSES: Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly or pick up the germs from an object such as a telephone or computer keyboard and then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth.
(SOURCE: Mayo Clinic)

SYMPTOMS: Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. However, colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. Although a cold can be a nuisance, you usually feel much worse with the flu. Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
• Fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
• Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
• Chills and sweats
• Headache
• Dry cough
• Fatigue and weakness
• Nasal congestion

THE PATCH: Development of the new microneedle vaccine patch began in 2007. There are several advantages of the patch. First, vaccine delivery into the skin is desirable because of the skin's rich immune network. Other advantages include more convenient storage, simple administration, easier transportation and lower dosage requirements. These advantages may make it possible for patients to apply the patches themselves without specialized training. In addition, replacing a hypodermic needle with the patch could be beneficial in developing countries. The patch could fit inside an envelope for delivery by the postal service and would occupy much less storage space. The patches would also increase vaccine safety by reducing the dangers of accidental or intentional re-use of a hypodermic needle. (SOURCE:

Dimitrios G. Koutsonanos, M.D.
Emory University School of Medicine

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