Duke Researchers study flu similarities in patients

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Duke Researchers are studying flu similarities and reactions in patients (WTVD)

Inside the Duke Center for Applied Genomics & Precision Medicine, researchers are hard at work developing a test to detect a person's susceptibility to different types of viruses.

Dr. Ephraim Tsalik is an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University and is dedicated to improving the lives of people who may be exposed to influenza.

"One of the big challenges that doctors have, when patients come to them when they're really not feeling well, is trying to figure out, are they not feeling well because of an infection?" Tsalik said. "And if it is an infection, is it a bacteria infection or a viral infection? It's a really important difference."

Behind the doors of the DCAGPM lab lies an area where Tsalik and his team are hopeful hospitals will use their test in 3 years. It's not uncommon for people to take antibiotics when they have a viral infection. Tsalik hopes the testing will be "Walgreen's-ready" after receiving FDA approval.

"A lot of it just takes time," he explained.

While the most recent flu report cited 63 deaths across North Carolina, Tsalik says, "Just because somebody might be feeling run down, they've got a fever, runny nose, scratchy throat, it could be the flu or it could be any one of a dozen different viruses. When people think they have the flu, there's a reasonably good chance they do, but there are a lot of viruses that give you flu-like symptoms. And some that are circulating now."

Researchers have also recruited "healthy volunteers" and exposed them to influenza. Over time, researchers will determine how each volunteer is reacting to determine why some people get sick and others don't.

"It gives us a tremendous amount of insight and the biology of that," Tsalik shared.

The big question: How come some people who are exposed to the flu don't get sick?

"Other people get exposed and maybe they have a mild illness. And some people get exposed and they end up deathly ill and they end up in the Intensive Care Unit," Tsalik explained. "We don't have a good understanding as to why that is when it's the same flu that's affecting all these people. So it must be something that is different among the individuals."

Duke researchers looking into flu similarities

Duke researchers say some people are just lucky. Tsalik also says some people who say they have never had the flu may actually have had it, but their reaction is mild. He says you can even share space with someone who gets sick from the influenza virus you passed along.

"You may be one of the lucky ones if you get flu, and that nice lady pushing the cart at Harris Teeter right after you've pushed it gets the flu from whatever you might have left behind, she might not fare so well."

Tsalik says the distinction is genetic and may even be hereditary.

Another big question: Can you get sick from the flu shot?

"The flu shot cannot cause influenza," Tsalik stated. "People who get the flu shot basically get dead flu. What it can do is cause a local inflammation reaction. It's your body reacting in a positive way to the vaccine. That's your body developing immunity. People think it makes them sick. And that's absolutely not true."

A common misconception, according to Tsalik, is that people who have not experienced a severe case of the flu feel they are not at risk.

"A lot of the people who are on life support now or in our ICUs right now are people who started off young and healthy. So no one is really safe."

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