New studies aim to help elderly fight flu

FARMINGTON, Conn. (WTNH)– Connecticut is one of 43 states dealing with widespread cases of the flu. Emergency departments across the state are busy treating patients.

It’s the elderly who have the toughest time recovering from the illness. Two studies underway at the UConn Center on Aging are looking into how to better protect this vulnerable population. Flu studies targeting the elderly is what led the Dahls to take part.

“We’ve gotten the flu shot in a timely manner,” said Elmer Dahl. “I think we’ve done well with them over a period of time.”

“We do every year, firm believers that it’s worth the effort,” said Hazel Dahl.

However, not every one in their age group responds the same way to the flu shot.

“The symptoms can be more severe,” said Dr. Geroge Kuchel. “They are more likely to become disabled, weakened and disabled, and unfortunately more like to die as well.”

Preliminary studies show older, frail adults are more likely to respond to a higher dose of the vaccine, four times stronger, compared to the regular dose. The director of the center, Dr. Kuchel, wants a more definitive answer and is conducting a study, comparing the benefits of the higher dose versus the regular one.

“The question is which older adults are more likely to require the higher dose vaccine and who’ll most benefit from it,” said Dr. Kuchel.

Why the elderly do not respond as well to the regular vaccine is what Dr. Laura Haynes is trying to understand in a separate study focused on “CD 8 T-cells, that are responding to the flu virus.”

As people age, Dr. Haynes said, the t-cells weaken and lose that ability, “And what they’re doing is actually instead of responding well, they are just seeing the virus in the vaccine, then they are dying and so what we are trying to do is to understand why these cells are undergoing this self-death instead of a good response to the vaccine.”

If they can figure out why, people like the Dahls can have better protection from a potentially deadly virus.

The study comparing the higher dose versus the regular dose is especially significant because the higher dose vaccine is available in pharmacies, added Dr. Kuchel, but is more expensive with slightly elevated side effects.

Both studies are looking for participants, both young and old.
Contact Study Coordinator Lisa Kenyon at 860-679-2305 or click here.

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