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Fresh hope of universal flu vaccine

US scientists have developed a "headless" version of the influenza virus that could eventually be used in a universal flu vaccine.

The team targeted part of the virus that occurs in all strains of influenza which mutates frequently, causing drug companies and health authorities to "second guess" which strain is most likely to strike as seasonal flu.

The new vaccine has only been successful in mice so far but could still provide the blueprint for a version that is equally successful in humans.

The discovery could also spell the end of pandemic strains of the virus that emerge every 10 years or so - most recently with the H1N1 virus - by protecting against all strains and removing the need for vaccines to be constantly produced in order to combat new mutations.

"We now report progress toward the goal of an influenza virus vaccine which would protect against multiple strains," Dr Peter Palese, Dr Adolfo Garcia-Sastre and colleagues from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York report in a new journal mBio.

"Current influenza vaccines are effective against only a narrow range of influenza virus strains. It is for this reason that new vaccines must be generated and administered each year."

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