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Researchers Hope to Combat Worsening Flu Epidemic

We all know this year's flu season has been severe. But now the Centers for Disease Control says in the U.S., we've reached levels that rival the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Across Massachusetts, there have been more than 8,000 cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza, and the Department of Public Health says flu-like illness numbers rose again over the past week.

"What we're trying to do is learn as much about this so people don't get as sick," said Dr. Jennifer Wang, an associate professor of infectious diseases and immunology at UMass Medical School in Worcester.

A team of researchers at the medical school is studying how flu evolves to try to improve prevention and treatment of the virus.

"We look at mutations in the virus itself and we look at how drugs, like anti-viral drugs, may influence the virus," said Dr. Wang.

That includes finding innovative ways to treat the flu with multiple drugs or intravenous infusions.

"We have concerns that in a future epidemic or pandemic, that the virus might become resistant to Tamiflu, thus we want to have alternative treatments available," she explained.

Dr. Wang says clinical studies being done here at UMass Medical School involving hospitalized flu patients are promising.

"Seeing if treatment with a plasma from somebody who's been boosted against influenza in advance, if transfusion of this plasma can help curb the symptoms of the flu," said Dr. Wang.

The goal is to reduce the number of people infected, as well as the length and severity of the flu, and to prevent deaths.

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