USD doctor studying why some flu strains are more severe - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

USD doctor studying why some flu strains are more severe than others

Dr. Victor Huber examining influenza virus under a microscope. Dr. Victor Huber examining influenza virus under a microscope.

Getting the flu isn't just an inconvenience, it can be miserable, and sometimes deadly.  That's why a Siouxland researcher is studying flu strains for a potential vaccine to prevent future outbreaks.

"It affects a very high percentage of the population.  Anywhere between 20 to 50 percent on an annual basis," Dr. Victor Huber said.

That's why Dr. Victor Huber is studying the flu the University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine.  As a researcher at USD, Huber says some flu cases can lead to death.

"The majority of deaths are associated with the secondary bacterial pneumonia and are particularly in the elderly population," Huber said.

It's also a concern for young children and people with weak immune systems.

"During an influenza infection, what typically happens is your immune system responds to the virus and that leaves you susceptible to something like a bacterial pneumonia, and the bacterial pneumonia is actually the more severe aspect of the infection," said Huber.

Huber says the virus is hard to get rid of, especially since it's easily transmitted.

"It's been around for a long time, at least hundreds of years. The earliest infections I think that were recorded were in 700 A.D.," Huber said.

He's currently leading research at USD to figure out why some strains are more severe than others.

Dr. Huber says, samples are collected from swab taken from animals and people, then the virus is isolated and then frozen in this freezer.

Huber and researchers then take the samples to study specific viral proteins that can cause the secondary infections. While flu season hits every year, he says the more severe flu strains show up every 4 to 5 years.

"The viruses this year are susceptible to the drugs, but are still causing quite a severe influenza season," Huber said.

The research could take up to 15 years, which means it could be years before we see a new vaccine based on his findings.

Huber says getting a flu vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu.

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