Every year, the approach of flu season sets off a medical guessing game, with life or death consequences.
There are many different strains of flu, and they vary from year to year. So each season, health authorities must make an educated guess and tell manufacturers which variants of the flu their vaccines should target.
Even when this system works, flu-related illnesses kill 3,000 to 49,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A bad guess or the unexpected emergence of a virulent strain can send the death toll higher than expected.
Against this backdrop, Stanford researchers report promising steps toward the creation of a universal flu vaccine, one that could be produced more quickly and offer broader protection than the virus-specific inoculants available today.