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Emily Singer

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Fending Off the Flu

If H1N1 vaccine supplies fall short, people may have to turn to supplements, statins, and laser-coupled vaccination.

  • October 28, 2009

A number of common supplements and drugs can boost the immune system’s ability to ward off the flu and reduce symptoms once you have it, said Jeffrey Gelfand, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital at the CIMIT (Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology) Innovation Congress this morning in Boston. Gelfand suggested that in the absence of adequate supplies of vaccine against the H1N1 flu strain, we’ll need to turn to less conventional measures. Clinical research shows that L-theanine, which is found in tea, and quercetin, a plant polyphenol, can reduce chances of getting an upper respiratory infection, he said. Both are available at stores that sell vitamin supplements.

Statins, the cholesterol-lowering blockbuster drug, can reduce symptoms of the flu, especially in younger people, the group hardest hit by H1N1. The drugs, many of which are available generically, reduce the “cytokine storm”–part of the immune reaction that occurs during sepsis and influenza infection. “I believe this could significantly reduce mortality,” said Gelfand.

Gelfand also said that changing our approach to vaccination could help extend limited vaccine supplies. One method currently under study is delivering vaccines to the skin, rather than to the muscle, as is done with current injections. Directly targeting the skin enhances the response from immune cells in the skin. His team is testing a laser-coupled injection system, in which a precise dose of laser light is used to briefly irritate the skin, attracting the target immune cells even more effectively. Initial studies show that this approach generates the same antibody response with only 20 percent of the amount of vaccine.

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