A study of influenza is also helping scientists to learn more about the immune system.
A four-year study of 1,414 unvaccinated people across England found that 43 per cent had immune cells that protected them from symptoms of both seasonal and pandemic influenza.

The work led by researchers from UCL, Oxford University and Public Health England, funded by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust, showed that certain T cells, immune cells that fight infection, can help to control influenza infections by targeting a protein common to all strains of influenza A. Influenza A is the most common type of influenza and is the only type that can cause pandemics The new finding offers the possibility of a universal vaccine to reliably reduce the severity and spread of all types of influenza A.

Professor Andrew Hayward, of UCL Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research, said: “Current flu vaccines help us make antibodies that target the proteins on the outside of a flu virus. These evolve gradually from year to year and dramatically in the event of a pandemic making it hard for the public health community and vaccine manufacturers to keep up,” “This was illustrated last year, when the seasonal flu vaccine was much less effective than normal. It’s also why we don’t have vaccine available at the start of a flu pandemic when it would be most useful.

“Although a vaccine to boost flu-killing T cell responses would not prevent individuals from becoming infected in the first place, it would help to stop those who were infected getting ill and spreading the virus through coughs and sneezes.”