Let’s Take the Fight to the Flu
It’s been tough to escape the flu this winter. And while we’re still to find out whether the 2018 influenza outbreak will be the worst we’ve seen in the last decade, current trends suggest rates of infection are likely to increase.
If you haven’t been unwell yourself, you probably know someone who has. That’s because this year’s flu season has been particularly severe, with the H3N2 influenza strain being cited as one of the main reasons for the number and seriousness of cases worldwide. In fact, H1N1, a similar strain, was responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic, and the 2009 ‘swine flu’ outbreak.1
The free movement of people and the ease of modern travel gives viruses like influenza, which causes the flu, the opportunity to cross our borders at will. And as our world gets ever smaller, the task of keeping up with it gets bigger.
Every year, more than one billion flu cases are reported worldwide, resulting in five million cases of severe illness and between 291,000 and 646,000 deaths globally. That’s around one person every 60 seconds. Most at risk are the elderly, pregnant women, young children and people with certain chronic health conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and heart disease.
And yet, still, flu (along with other viral respiratory infections) is often underestimated, written off as ‘just a bad cold’ and not always seen as a high-risk infection.
What’s more, flu has the ability to mutate, known as “antigenic drift” from season to season, making it hard to predict which strains will strike. Throw in concerns about antiviral drug resistance and the problems this causes in designing effective vaccines, and it all adds up to a serious public health challenge.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, flu vaccination effectiveness ranges between 10 and 60 percent amongst the overall population during the flu season.2 The current interim efficacy estimates for the 2017-2018 flu vaccine in the US show it is 25 percent effective against illness caused by the H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus, 67% effective against H1N1 pdm09 viruses and 42 percent effective against influenza B viruses, which translates to an adjusted overall vaccine effectiveness of 36 percent.3 This highlights the need to find new ways to limit these outbreaks – and is why, at Janssen, we’re working hard to develop new approaches.
We’re also exploring ways to address antigenic drift while collaborating with partners on the development of an investigational single universal vaccine to help protect against influenza.
Ultimately, our goal is to help people fight the burden of these infections and improve outcomes for those most at risk or suffering from the most serious viral infections. Put another way, we’re taking the fight to flu.
It’s a battle we intend to win!
1 https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/01/flu-influenza-h3n2-virus-out.... Last accessed 19 February 2018.
2 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/vaccination/effectiveness-studies.htm. Last accessed 19 February 2018
3 CDC: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Interim Estimates of 2017–18 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2018 Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6706a2.htm Last accessed 19 February 2018