The swine flu pandemic of 2009 was one of the worst flu scares in recent memory, even if its actual effects ended up being relatively moderate. Now something unambiguously good could come of all this: a universal flu vaccine.As many as sixty million people were infected with the H1N1 virus, although only about 18,000 people are known to have died from the disease. What researchers are now discovering is what swine flu leaves behind: a superpowered immune system with antibodies that can kill off any new flu virus, not just a return of H1N1.
Recent research on nine swine flu survivors revealed that the infection had caused all their immune systems to go into overdrive, creating a huge range of flu antibodies that aren't needed to fight off swine flu but would be very useful if any number of other flu strains tried to invade the subjects' bodies. More common flu strains like the seasonal flu or the very mild flu virus used to create the flu vaccine don't activate this many antibodies, suggesting there's something unusual about H1N1 that triggers this powerful immune response.