|A new study conducted by the University of Michigan recently revealed that an engineered compound that is based on a banana plant has potential clinical use to fight the deadly flu / Photo by: Praweena Pratchayakupt via 123RF|
Influenza or flu is an infectious disease that continues to be a danger to humanity. While most people who get the virus will recover only in a few days or less than two weeks, there are some cases when the infection leads to complications that can be life-threatening. This is the reason why many infectious disease researchers in the world are still busy finding a solution for it.
A new study conducted by the University of Michigan recently revealed that an engineered compound that is based on a banana plant has potential clinical use to fight the deadly flu. Michigan Medicine infection diseases division’s professor of internal medicine David Markovitz, M.D. said that influenza has the potential to kill millions of people. This is why they have worked with collaborators for years to create an antiviral drug made out of a banana plant.
In the experiments they conducted, over 80% of mice exposed to fatal flu survived after they received an injection of the compound. The mice were protected from the deadly virus even if they were injected 72 hours prior to the flu virus exposure.
Compound Based on a Banana Plant
According to the team, the compound was developed from banana lectin. They refer to the compound as H84T protein. Early evidence has also shown that the protein is safe despite the concern that H84T may be recognized by the immune system as foreign so it will develop antibodies against the compound. The team shared that the mice indeed develop antibodies against the compound but they were not adversely affected because of it. The team’s study also appeared in the medical platform Medical Xpress.
How Does the Protein H84T Work?
The protein targets the high mannose, a sugar seen on the outside of certain viruses but usually not on healthy cells. H84T blocks the ability of the flu virus to fuse with endosomes in the cell, which is supposedly a key process in infection. This means that the ability of the virus to wreak havoc in the body and replicate is disabled.
The researchers also found out that the H84T protein is not only effective in fighting the influenza virus but also against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), measles, HIV, and Ebola. MERS, which is also known as camel flu, is a deadly viral illness that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. H84T is also found effective in fighting SARS and other coronaviruses.
Markovitz also pointed out that his team hopes to conduct more research to make sure that the compound will be effective in humans too. That way, it can also enter the market but they are concerned that commercialization of the compound may be difficult because the economics of the pharmaceutical industry does not specifically favor antibacterials or antivirals that are for one-time use only.
In 2015, a group of international scientists from the US, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, and Germany also used banana lectin (BanLec) to fight a range of viruses. They said that the banana lectin can fight viruses in mice in a way that doesn’t cause unwanted inflammation and irritation.
Influenza and Flu Shot: Statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9 million to 45 million illnesses and led to about 810 hospitalizations since 2010. The virus has also led to between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the throat, nose, and sometimes the lungs. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine every year. The flu shot contains deactivated flu viruses that enable the immune system to learn how to fight the virus even before the person gets into contact with it. People can still catch the flu even if they have a flu shot but it lessens the symptoms.
Usually, it takes 2 weeks for the antibodies to develop after the flu shot. Once the vaccine enters the body, it reduces the person’s chances of getting the flu by up to 40 to 60%. It is also recommended to get flu shots as early as 6 months old.
The CDC added that children are most likely to get sick from the influenza virus and people 65 years and older are least likely.
In the US alone, there are about 2.6 million medical visits between 2016 and 2017 and these are all associated with influenza. About 200,000 people in the US are also hospitalized every year because of complications from the influenza virus. Healthcare discount card provider SingleCare also details that the flu has real costs as 17 million workdays are missed every year because of the flu. This estimates to US$7 billion worth of lost productivity and sick days. Children will also miss an average of 3 to 5 school days because they have the flu.
Most people don’t experience any side effect of a flu shot. There are some people, though, whose arms may be a bit swollen, red, or sore, but that can only last for up to 2 days. There are also some who experience a low-grade fever or headache a few hours or a day after they get the flu shot.
Natural Ways to Ease Flu Symptoms
The flu virus spreads by the tiny droplets made when a person with the flu talks, sneezes, or coughs. The droplets can land in the noses or mouths of people closeby or by touching the object or surface that contains the flu virus.
For people who get sick a lot because of the flu virus, there are natural ways to ease their symptoms. The first is to get plenty of rest or stay at home. Drinking more liquids is also advisable, may it be water, fruit juices, broth-based soups, and sports drinks. These keep the respiratory system hydrated and thin the mucus so that it would be easier to cough or spit it out. This prevents lung infection too. Another way is to use steam so that your nose will not be stuffed up. Using a vaporizer or mist humidifier is also good if the air in your room is dry.
Markovitz and his team's discovery could pave the way for a new class of drugs for treating the flu.