Inside The Flu Lab: Studying This Year's Vaccine For Next Year

Testing The Effects Of The Flu Vaccine

Baylor Scott & White in Temple, in the middle of Texas, is in its seventh year of being squarely in the middle of the nationwide fight against the flu.

If you're in Temple, you can't miss the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center, sitting on a hill high above FM 1741/S. 31st street. Without a walk down a long basement hallway, you might miss room 36B and its role in the influenza fight.

The lab is part of the Centers for Disease Control's Vaccine Effectiveness Program. BSW in Temple is one of five locations across the country conducting daily tests on influenza swab samples taken from patients, determining which strain of the flu each patient carried, whether those same patients had received vaccines, and to what level current vaccines may or may not have worked. 

The other sites involved in the VE program, which is awarded to each institution as a 5-year grant by the CDC, are the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin, the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh.

"Yes, it is a very intense flu season," said Manjusha Gaglani, MD, who leads Baylor Scott & White's portion of the Vaccine Effectiveness Program in Temple. “We are still at the peak levels. It hasn’t really slowed down yet.”

The team in Temple is comprised of about 20 doctors and lab technicians. They receive flu samples offered by patients in the BSW system. Along with data collected during interviews with those patients, lab tests that determine the exact strain, or strains, each patient carried are transmitted weekly to the CDC in Atlanta. 

"Each site is equally important because we are representing a different region," Gaglani said of the regional differences found in influenza patients, data used to formulate the next season's vaccine. “That kind of makes the data for the whole U.S., so it’s very important.”

Gaglani confirms that this year’s vaccines are proving the least effective against the H3N2 strain of the flu. And it is the strain they are finding the most in lab tests in Temple. Those lab tests will help determine what next year's vaccine will look like, a decision that has to be made by late next month.

These influenza specialists, processing samples of the flu from Texas every day, also say you should get your flu shot no later than Halloween each year. And that even if you’ve had the flu, get the shot anyway. You may have only had one strain of the flu. Several other strains circulating this year may still be able to get you sick all over again.

"And these viruses kill people every season," Gaglani said. "They kill children, and they kill the elderly. Anybody randomly can get complications, so it is very worthwhile for me to be involved in trying to prevent people from being ill."

Prevention is the daily work of a team in the middle of Texas, in the middle of the nationwide fight to keep you from getting the flu.

© 2018 WFAA-TV


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