WEOS Finger Lakes Public Radio

Flu researchers prepare for approaching season

Oct 4, 2019
Originally published on October 2, 2019 6:04 pm

This year’s approaching flu season follows the longest season in more than a decade.

That makes efforts to prepare for this season particularly important.

One of the most important elements of that preparation is the flu vaccine, which has to change almost every year to account for mutations in the flu virus, said David Topham, who directs the Influenza Center of Excellence at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Each year’s formulation requires some educated guesswork, Topham said, because there’s no way to perfectly match a vaccine to the viruses that infect people each year.

“One thing we’ve learned about influenza is that it’s unpredictable,” he said. “We try as hard as we can.”

The genetics of the flu viruses change throughout each season. That’s what allows the virus to survive, said Topham.

Researchers look at those mutations to plan for the next season. They also study the flu viruses that circulate in the Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, where flu season is just ending.

There’s good news and bad news coming out of that research.

The bad news is that two different types of flu virus were circulating at the same time in the Southern Hemisphere this year, which Topham said can make for longer and more severe flu seasons.

The good news is that it was still “a pretty mild season overall.”

That might bode well for a mild season in New York this year. Or it might not. 

“There’s always, always that element of unpredictability,” Topham stressed.

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