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How can we protect patients with weakened immune systems from influenza?

The flu is bad enough for healthy people, but the disease can place a special burden on those with weakened immune systems, such as patients on chemotherapy. A five-year, $10.7 million federal grant to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia will support research to determine how adults and children with impaired immune systems may be uniquely vulnerable to influenza, and will seek better ways to protect them.

Because patients with compromised immune systems may be contagious longer than people with healthier immune systems, they may be a reservoir for the disease. In addition to the yearly toll of ordinary influenza (as many as 36,000 annual fatalities in the U.S.), added concerns over potential threats -- an avian flu pandemic or the use of flu as a weapon of biological warfare -- put anti-flu measures into the category of biodefense.

Under a biodefense program mandated by Congress, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in conjunction with the Department of Defense, has awarded the grant to researchers at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, led by pediatric immunologist Kathleen Sullivan, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Allergy and Immunology at Children's Hospital.

"Our research focuses on the basic question of who benefits most from influenza vaccine," said Dr. Sullivan. "This question becomes paramount if influenza reaches epidemic proportions and supplies of vaccine are limited. We want to offer protection to these special populations of immunocompromised patients, but not to vaccinate them needlessly."

Patients on chemotherapy, on immunosuppressive drugs, or with diseases that weaken the immune system may be especially vulnerable to influenza, whether the ordinary annual variety or deadlier types. The researchers will study how such patients' vaccine responses change over time: "Some patients may not benefit from flu vaccine at one point in time, but they may benefit just two o
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Source:Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


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