A new flu vaccine that you wear as a patch on your arm, rather than going to the doctor and getting a shot, could help slow the spread of the often deadly flu virus, because it would lead to more people getting the flu vaccination.
Instead of making a trip to the doctor to get a shot with a needle, patients apply the patch themselves. The vaccine patch comes in the mail, so there 's no need for a special appointment to go get a flu vaccine.
In fact, scientists at three Georgia research facilities — Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and the Center For Disease Control — found that when individuals are given the option of taking a new flu vaccine as a patch, 65 percent said they would get the vaccination.
Without the patch option, only 46 percent said that would obtain a new flu vaccine, according to the finding published in February by the medical journal, Vaccine.
The more widespread use of the new flu vaccine patch, combined with the greater effectiveness of recent flu vaccines, should lead to a greatly reduced number of flu cases each winter. According to the CDC, this year's flu vaccine reduced the risk that the recipient would need to see a doctor for the flu by 61 percent. Last year's vaccine had an effectiveness of 51 percent, the CDC reported.
Young people are both the least likely to get a flu vaccine, and the most likely to be hospitalized for flu symptoms, two facts that are very likely related.
This year's flu season has been especially brutal, claiming 302 lives in California alone by the end of February. Six of those victims were children.
The Georgia researchers also tested how easily non-trained patients could put the patches on themselves. Each patch contains 50 microscopic needles — needles so small that patch is painless to administer.
"It actually feels better than having a needle go in," said one patch user, Rudy Garcia, in an NBC News interview.
"I found it to be less painful, and the sensation passed by much more quickly than having a one-inch needle go in and out of your arm," said one of the researchers, Georgia Tech's James Norman.
By applying dye to test subjects' skin, the scientists could see where the tiny punctures made the needles turned up, allowing them to judge how accurately each patient put on the new flu vaccine patch.
"We found that everyone was capable of administering a microneedle patch appropriately, though not everyone did on the first try," said Mark Prausnitz, also of Georgia Tech.
The new flu vaccine patch could still be a few years away. A clinical study of the patch on humans will not begin until spring of 2015.