Chasing Away the Flu Bug

An 'Achilles Heel' in Viral Replication Helps Researchers Develop a Universal Cure for Influenza

Nadège Chéry, PhD

When influenza attacks, it may infect anyone, regardless of his or her age. But when influenza kills, it usually takes the lives of individuals, like the elderly, who are less able to fight back.2 In Canada, 6000 deaths are attributable to influenza every year3 with the highest rate of mortality occurring among people over 65 years of age.2 Thus, when it comes to older individuals, both early diagnosis, and prevention are imperative. Because the influenza virus continuously changes, strategies for the prevention of flu outbreaks, although thoughtfully planned, have had limited success. Recently, however, scientists have found a "weakness" in influenza's ability to escape traditional flu therapies. This discovery has set the stage for the design of new antiviral drugs which, potentially, may constitute a cure for the flu.

What is Influenza?
Influenza is a member of the Orthomyxoviridae family,1 and causes disease by infecting the epithelial cells that compose the lining of the respiratory tract. Influenza produces symptoms similar to other viruses which infect the respiratory tract. Flu outbreaks are common among elderly persons, particularly in nursing homes.4 Since the immune systems of elderly people in a nursing home may be compromised,5 their ability to fight an influenza infection can be severely undermined.