The influenza virus that caused the 1918 pandemic lingers only as descendent viruses, which still circulate among humans. Every so often, new forms of these viruses emerge to cause new influenza pandemics, all less deadly than the original. This has earned the 1918 flu its nickname: “The Mother of All Pandemics.”
Unfortunately, stopping these flu pandemics in their early stages is difficult. These influenza pandemics are usually caused by established flu viruses that take genes from animal influenza viruses, to form a new, unusually virulent or deadly virus. This is a more complicated genetic change than is found in seasonal influenza viruses, which usually accumulate minor genetic changes over time. These slow changes can be tracked, and the disease can often be prevented by administering a vaccine closely matched to the circulating strains.
Whether pandemic or seasonal, and whatever their origin, influenza viruses share some common traits. What if we had a vaccine that could target those commonalities—a universal influenza vaccine, which could protect against many different types of influenza, or which would not need to be administered every year? In a new video, NIAID’s Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger, senior investigator in NIAID’s Viral Pathogenesis and Evolution Section, and Dr. David Morens, senior scientific advisor to the NIAID director, discuss where pandemic influenza viruses originate and the research that is being done to find and develop a universal influenza vaccine.
Curious about how the 1918 influenza virus killed people, and how Dr. Taubenberger and other scientists reconstructed it from preserved tissue? Check out NIAID Now’s earlier video: Video: What Was the 1918 Influenza Pandemic?
Want to hear more from Dr. Taubenberger about why he studies the 1918 pandemic? Watch more of NIAID Now’s interview with him here.