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New research looks at flu vaccines and antibiotic misuse

The Health Research Board published its Picture of Health for 2012 today.

Image: Rogelio V. Solis/AP/Press Association Images

THE GOVERNMENT-FUNDED Health Research Board has published its Picture of Health report for 2012, highlighting the best of its studies and projects.

In the past few years, the HRB has focussed on research that impacts positively on people’s health, patient care and the health service.

Following the release, Chief Executive Enda Connolly said today’s report shows that the work carried out by researchers has “real impact”.

“The government’s investment in research must be recognised as a vital step to encourage innovation and help reinvigorate the economy,” he added.

Two of the studies outlined by the Board today examine the common problems of influenza and antibiotic misuse.

A HRB-funded team at University College Cork has reportedly ‘made strides’ in the area of a ‘universal’ flu vaccine that protects against many strains, including potential pandemic flu.

Every flu season, a new flu vaccine is introduced because the predominant flue virus that goes around is likely to have changed and vaccines from previous years will not give enough protection.

And, if a pandemic flu breaks out, there is a global scramble to develop and distribute vaccines in time – which was seen recently in Ireland with the H1N1 virus.

“Instead of targeting the outer surface of the flu virus, which is the part that changes the most, we want to develop a vaccine that targets more hidden parts of the virus, which tend to change less,” explains Dr Anne Moore, a lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at UCC.

Her team has been looking at potential ‘universal’ flu vaccines that introduce a small amount of the flu virus into the host in order to encourage the host’s immune system to build up a memory of it.

The study worked out important elements of how a host immune system responds to the two potential vaccines, has established expertise in universal flu virus development at UCC and led to an EU-funded study on flu vaccine delivery.

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Resistance needed for antibiotic misuse

In a separate study, a team in the west of Ireland has shown that many antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately, outlining the link with the increasing risk of antibiotic resistance.

“By using antibiotics we make them gradually less useful,” explains Dr Akke Vellinga, a senior lecturer in primary care and lecturer in bacteriology at NUI Galway. “The antibiotics end up in the environment and the bacterial community adapts by developing resistance.”

The study at NUI Galway looked at databases on prescribing practices and antibiotic resistance risk and found a direct link between the amount of antibiotics prescribed and the chance that an individual patient would be diagnosed with a resistant E.coli infection.

The researchers also found that while they could identify bacteria in 20 per cent of samples from patients with urinary tract infections, more than 50 per cent of the patients were prescribed antibiotics. And of those, only 37 per cent were prescribed the recommended treatment.

In addition, the risks of being diagnosed with an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection shot up if a patient had more than one course of antibiotics: having two or more rounds of the medication could increase the risk of resistance by more than six-fold.

Download the full report here>

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