Flu has killed 339 San Diegans this season, but drug research at UCSD shows promise

SAN DIEGO -- The Health and Human Services Agency announced this week that six more flu deaths have brought San Diego County's total to 339 fatal cases.

The particularly severe season has finally shown signs of slowing, county officials say, but not before claiming the lives of San Diegans ranging from ages 1 to 101.

Of those who died from flu-related causes this season, 224 were not vaccinated, but 114 people died despite their vaccinations.

San Diego County said that in addition to an "unusually severe" season, better reporting and tracking by the local medical community contributed to the higher-than-average death toll.

While this has been a particularly deadly year for influenza,  researchers at U.C. San Diego are reporting some encouraging advances in the fight against the flu virus.

“We’ve had success along the way, but it’s really picked up in the last 18 months or so,” said researcher Cy Credille.

Credille is one of 20 researchers working on the flu virus at the university’s Cohen Lab.

“We’re developing drugs that can actually stop the flu virus in its track,” said Credille said.

Because there are so many flu strains, current vaccines are developed every year based on  an educated guess of which strain is expected to be the worst. Credille said his team is developing a drug works differently.

“What we’re trying to do is develop something that, regardless of which strain that happens to be circulating this year, it deals with the machinery that’s always the same no matter what flavor of flu happens to be prevalent,” said Credille.

Researchers were startled to discover that the drug not only stops the virus from multiplying in your body, but it also kills it.

“I did a triple take,” Credille said. “It was unexpected, to say the least. As scientist, you want to see it and you want to jump for joy.”

So far, the drug has only been tested in the  lab, but Credille said he hopes the results will hold up in animal and human testing.

“From the lab scale, we’re doing great. We have some data that suggests it really, really should be effective if it eventually gets to humans,” said Credille.

Research on the drug has only just started, so it could be years before an anti-flu drug is approved for human treatment, Credille said.