It's the same every year: that internal debate as to whether or not to get that flu shot your doctor is touting. In the United States, on average a full fifth of the population contracts influenza each year, resulting in approximately 226,000 hospitalizations and a number of deaths ranging from 3000 to 49,000. Because influenza mutates so rapidly, currently a new vaccine must be reformulated every season so as to combat the most recent strain of the virus. According to health authorities, the most effective way to prevent contracting the flu is by being immunized each year with the updated vaccine.  Many find the annual vaccination to be an irksome practice, given the discomfort of the administration itself - side effects of the shot can include local soreness, headache and fever - and the inconvenience of arranging to obtain it.

That may soon change. Researchers from the British drug development company SEEK will be presenting results from clinical trials of a new drug called the Flu-v vaccine at the Influenza Congress in Arlington, Virginia on Tuesday. Flu vaccines train the immune system to recognize the presence of viruses by introducing a dead virus into the patient's body by shot or nasal spray; the problem lies in the speed with which the virus may mutate, becoming unidentifiable. The Flu-v vaccine, say the researchers, would bypass the issue by focusing not upon the outer coat of the virus - which is easily shed - but by conserved regions of virus proteins that are maintained even when other parts of the virus mutate.

In other words, the Flu-V vaccine would provide a single vaccine against all existing strains of the flu - including those linked to pandemics.  In trials, vaccinated subjects showed significantly lower instance of flu symptoms, showed immunity to a range of virus strains, including both animal and human A and B strains and was well-tolerated. SEEK's Universal Flu vaccine could be available for use in the next three to five years, depending upon regulatory approval.