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Under the tongue flu vaccine

29th January 2008

A flu vaccine that is adminstered under the tongue may provide better protection from type A influenza, researchers in Japan, France and the United States have found.

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The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, carried out a series of experiments on mice.

The mice were given two doses of either live or inactivated flu virus sublingually, which means that the vaccine is absorbed through the mucus in the mouth.

The vaccine administered in this way was shown to provide protection against a lethal dose of influenza given to the mice.

Such a delivery method would enable the vaccine to be administered to large numbers of people in areas which lack easy access to the qualified medical staff needed to inject people with needles.

The vaccine would also appeal to those who do not like needles, and perhaps encourage more people to get vaccinated against influenza.

Needles can also carry side-effects, including pain and swelling.

Previously, researchers had found complications could occur with a nasally administered vaccine if the flu virus travelled into the central nervous system.

But this did not happen with the vaccine given to mice under the tongue.

Researchers concluded that the safety of the sublingual vaccine was now well established.

They said the under-the-tongue vaccine could be a more effective avenue than traditional approaches for vaccinating against both seasonal flu and pandemic flu.

But some experts warn that research like this does not always translate well from animals into humans.

The WHO estimates that seasonal influenza causes between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year around the world.

Governments are also stockpiling pandemic influenza vaccines, primarily targeting avian H5N1 viruses, for emergency use. However, no-one is sure whether further mutations of bird flu will render them useless.

Experts believe the next pandemic could cause disease in two billion people, and kill millions globally.

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