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First of its kind Seattle study aims to stop flu before it becomes pandemic

(KIRO 7)

Doctors and researchers from Brotman Baty Institute, a collaboration between UW Medicine, Seattle Children’s and Fred Hutch, are taking a new approach to understanding the flu.

RELATED: New vaccine from UW could end annual flu shots

The Seattle Flu Study is gathering samples from people before they go to the doctor, and it aims to find a way to stop the flu before it becomes a pandemic.

You have a chance to help researchers learn how the flu is spread and get a $10 gift card for your efforts.

Previous studies looked only at patients who showed up at doctor’s offices or hospitals. KIRO 7 talked to Dr. Helen Chu, of UW Medicine. She’s the lead clinical investigator.

“This is the first of its kind, really, to look at flu in the community and the clinic simultaneously, to get a better understanding of how is it different,” Chu said. “Is it earlier in the community and then it goes to the clinic? And is that a way we could stop its spread earlier before it becomes a full-fledged epidemic or pandemic?”

Since Jan. 7, nine kiosks across the city have been taking volunteers in the community who are experiencing at least two cold symptoms.

The kiosks are placed at various locations, such as child care centers and senior centers, to get a wide sample.

In exchange for a $10 gift card, the volunteers fill out a five-minute questionnaire that includes places they’ve visited recently.

And they get swabbed inside their nose to give doctors samples to compare.

Trevor Bedford, a vaccine and infectious disease researcher at Fred Hutch, is studying the samples.

“So, by looking at two different people’s viruses, we can see whether they’re infected by two different links in a chain or 10 different links, and be able to see whether this virus is related to a virus from Hong Kong a month ago or maybe it’s related to a virus from Texas two weeks ago,” Bedford said.

Researchers can determine if the current flu vaccine is effective for that strain.

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“Is it the normal flu or is it a new flu that can cause quite a lot of disease in a population that’s not immune to it?” Chu said. “And if we know that early, we can do something to stop its spread. We can use new anti-virals.”

The researchers will continue taking samples throughout flu season, likely into April.

There are a couple of locations where anyone off the street experiencing cold symptoms can give a sample and get a $10 gift card. You can find the locations at seattleflu.org.

The researchers hope this year’s results will give them the baseline information they will need to react in real time.

“I think Seattle will really be established as the forefront of this, of the place where we, hopefully, have developed a mechanism to better understand how pathogens enter a city, how they go from one person to another and then what really leads to that spark that leads to an epidemic,” Chu said.

Written by John Knicely

Correction, 2/4/19: Amended article to reflect that the Brotman Baty Institute is conducting the study.
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