Influenza, or flu, is a contagious respiratory infection caused by several flu viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs.. People infected with the seasonal flu virus feel miserable with fever, chills, muscle aches, coughing, congestion, headache and fatigue for a week or so. Most people who get the flu get better within two weeks, but some people may develop serious complications, such as pneumonia. Pandemic influenza is when a new flu virus strain occurs that can spread easily from person-to-person and the virus is one for which most people have no immunity.
Why Is the Study of Influenza a Priority for NIAID?
Each year, seasonal influenza sickens millions and causes thousands of hospitalizations and flu-related deaths. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. Flu infection can present particularly serious problems for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions, such as asthma and heart disease. In addition to seasonal influenza, NIAID is also working to prepare for a potential pandemic flu threat. Pandemic flu occurs when a new flu virus strain emerges for which humans have little to no immunity, which enables the virus to spread easily from person-to-person. Flu viruses of this type can sicken millions around the globe.
How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?
NIAID is conducting and supporting research to find new and improved ways to diagnose, treat and prevent influenza infection. This includes working toward a universal flu vaccine that could provide long-lasting protection against multiple strains of influenza, such as those that cause seasonal flu as well as emerging forms capable of causing a global pandemic.
NIAID supports and conducts basic research to learn more about the structure of influenza viruses and how they cause disease (pathogenesis)—an understanding that is critical to the development of new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.
Developing new and improved influenza vaccines as well as a universal flu vaccine are high priorities for NIAID. Specifically, NIAID conducts and supports research to find innovative technologies to improve vaccine production flexibility; new more broadly protective flu vaccines; create vaccines that are effective against newly emerging influenza viruses; develop adjuvants to boost vaccine results; and create a universal flu vaccine effective against multiple influenza strains.
As the risk of a flu pandemic increases, healthcare professionals must be able to quickly distinguish one flu strain from another. Therefore, NIAID supports research to design diagnostics that are faster, more accurate, more cost-effective, and more portable.
NIAID supports research on influenza therapeutics to develop new drugs, determine effective drug combinations, and examine the mechanisms behind emerging drug resistance. This includes the support of innovative technologies used to design drugs that target specific viral proteins and cellular processes.