Every winter it happens like clockwork. The red, stuffy nose rubbed raw from boxes of tissues, the fever that leaves you huddled in bed feeling cold one minute and hot the next, and the cough that lingers for weeks. Scientific American reports that it may seem like everyone battles the flu each winter, but only about 10 percent of the population is affected, which is still roughly 32 million people. During epidemics, this figure can near 30 percent. However, researchers are hoping to create a vaccine that could stop the flu from ever taking hold in our bodies.

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“We took a step back and thought, ‘What if we could stop the virus in the nose before it made it to the lung?” asks Dr. Linda Wakim, from Melbourne, Australia’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, in a story on The University of Melbourne’s website.

Wakim and her team discovered a long-living white blood cell in our nose that they hope could prevent the flu from ever reaching our lungs. As the story on the university’s website explains, scientists have long hoped that germ-fighting white blood cells in the lungs could be used to make a vaccine. The problem is that the cells found in our lung tissue die quickly, which makes it tricky to use for treatments.

 

So, the researchers decided to investigate how white blood cells in the noses work and if they’d be useful. “We moved our focus to investigating immune responses in nasal tissue, which is where the body first encounters flu viruses – a kind of nasal border patrol,” explains Wakim.

According to the story, the virus is inhaled through the nose into the airways, where it then replicates and moves into the lungs. The scientists found that white blood cells like the one in the lungs, known as Trms, are found in the nose too, except they actually live longer. From this, the team determined that a vaccine could be created to activate those special Trm blood cells in the nose, stopping the virus before it can migrate and cause respiratory problems.

The Mayo Clinic advises plenty of bed rest and fluids to treat the common flu. As the illness is contracted virally, and not bacterially, using medications like antibiotics are not effective. Harvard University says that the flu season begins in October and picks up in December, before reaching its peak in February. The end of the season is March.

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Many believe that catching the flu is linked to the lower temperatures, but this isn’t exactly true. A story on Harvard’s blog attributes this to people spending more time holed inside with closed windows, meaning they breathe the flu-ridden air. The shorter days also are to blame as we receive less vitamin D and melatonin, which lowers immune systems. And some scientists believe that the flu virus actually survives better in colder climates. The best way to ward off the flu is by getting a vaccine. The second? Washing your hands and covering your mouth when coughing.

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