New York, Oct 1 (IANS) Researchers have identified a small protein that could potentially improve the symptoms and mortality associated with the flu and possibly other types of infectious illness as well. The protein called retrocyclin-101 (RC-101) is unique in that it not only targets the flu virus itself, but also the harmful inflammation the virus triggers in the host. "Every year, thousands of people across the country die from the flu or its complications -- despite widespread use of annual influenza vaccines," said lead author Daniel J Prantner, a research associate at the University of Maryland. "We think that this protein could lead to medicines that could be a powerful tool in the battle against this disease, and against inflammation in general," he added. For the study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, the team studied the effects of RC-101 on human cells, and in an animal model of flu, using mice. The researchers studied human immune cells, and found that RC-101 had two positive effects. First, it blocked the flu virus from infecting the cells; second it blocked the runway inflammation that is behind most symptoms of influenza infection, such as fever, pain, lethargy, and trouble breathing. This double action is unique, Prantner said. Further, in the animal model, the mice treated with RC-101 exhibited less severe symptoms of the flu and also decreased rates of death. Among the control group, 90 per cent of the mice died; among the group that was given RC-101, only 20 per cent died.