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Universal vaccine could put an end to all flu

it is not a nice way to die. As the virus spreads through your lungs, your immune system goes into overdrive. Your lungs become leaky and fill with fluid. Your lips and nails, then your skin, turn blue as you struggle to get enough oxygen. Basically, you drown.

Flu can kill in other ways, too, from rendering you vulnerable to bacterial infections to triggering heart attacks. Of course, most flu strains, including (so far) the 2009 pandemic virus, cause only mild symptoms in the vast majority of people. But with 10 to 20 per cent of people worldwide getting flu every year, that still adds up to a huge burden of illness - and even in a good year some half a million die.

What if it needn't be this way? Many once-common diseases, from smallpox to polio, have been eliminated, or nearly so, just by vaccinating children. If only we could develop a vaccine that was effective against all strains of flu, we might prevent both annual epidemics and occasional pandemics like the one now under way.

Recent work suggests it is possible to create just such a vaccine. In fact, the effectiveness of one potential universal vaccine will be tested in people for the first time in September. Could we be on the brink of beating flu?
 
 

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