Medical

Study says year of birth impacts vulnerability to the flu

Study says year of birth impac...
A new study has thrown further weight behind the idea that initial exposure – and therefore age – can shape vulnerability to different sub-types of influenza A
A new study has thrown further weight behind the idea that initial exposure – and therefore age – can shape vulnerability to different sub-types of influenza A
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A new study has thrown further weight behind the idea that initial exposure – and therefore age – can shape vulnerability to different sub-types of influenza A
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A new study has thrown further weight behind the idea that initial exposure – and therefore age – can shape vulnerability to different sub-types of influenza A

In influenza research circles there is a concept known as antigenic imprinting, referring to the idea that the type of flu you are exposed to at an early age impacts your immune system's response to the virus for the rest of your days. A new study is adding weight to this hypothesis, with the researchers taking advantage of a rare flu season to uncover rapid shifts in infection trends that appear associated with a patient's age.

The two sub-types of influenza A virus that cause the coughing, aching and fever most are familiar with typically take it in turns, with one circulating one season and the other taking the next. But the 2018/2019 flu season was an anomaly, in that both subtypes, H1N1 and H3N2, took hold at different points in the season.

For influenza researchers at McMaster University, this presented a rare opportunity to delve deeper into the notion of antigenic imprinting. The scientists gathered data from this unusual 2018/2019 flu season and investigated the relationship between a person's age, and therefore the subtype they were likely first exposed to, and their vulnerability to either H1N1 or H3N2.

“We already knew from our previous studies that susceptibility to specific influenza subtypes could be associated with year of birth," says Alain Gagnon from the University of Montreal, lead author of the study. "This new study goes much further in support of antigenic imprinting. Instead of just showing how specific age patterns are associated with one subtype or the other during a single influenza season, we took advantage of a unique ‘natural experiment’ to show how the change in subtype dominance during one season appears to lead, practically in real time, to a change in susceptibility by age."

This immediate shift in vulnerability within the one flu season, seemingly guided by age, could prove valuable for public health officials preparing for epidemics by helping them determine which demographics are most at risk, depending on which sub-type is circulating.

“People’s prior immunity to viruses like flu, or even coronavirus, can have a tremendous impact on their risk of becoming ill during subsequent epidemics and pandemics,” says Matthew Miller, a co-author. “Understanding how their prior immunity either leaves them protected or susceptible is really important for helping us to identify the populations who are most at risk during seasonal epidemics and new outbreaks."

The research was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Source: McMaster University

8 comments
Ma Le
Would be interesting to know if immunity to flu or coronavirus (or HIV) is correlated to previous infection with any particular disease such as herpes, chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella... Do immune cells (immunoglobulins & antibodies) from a prior infection offer any protection against another disease or does a previous infection boost the immune system in general to enhance immunity against other diseases? Also what would happen if we inject coronavirus into a horse or pig or sheep (or something else) - would antibodies form that can be used in humans (after genetic modification if necessary)?
BlueOak
Wait - did I miss it? Where is the reporting as to what birth years are applicable? What a tease. ;-)
Dawna Lincoln
this is just false hope for those exposed to the current pandemic, the coronavirus. this is a bunch of crap. It's a proven fact that only certain antibodies in a person's body can protect them from certain viruses. It has nothing to do with age. other than some more than others, we might be more susceptible to the impact of any given virus based on our own immune systems. it doesn't take Einstein to know that!
Dawna Lincoln
This is unfounded conjecture, facts base that it's the immune system that either protects or doesn't protect against any foreign bodies invading the human system.
buzzclick
I suspect that what is implied here is not the particular year of birth, but the decade or era. In any case, it is a worthwhile investigation because we do know that some people who are exposed to HIV or the flu or even the rhinovirus do not get sick, and we must find out why this does or doesn't happen.
neutrino23
You can click through the link and read the paper. It is not very long. It is a little hard to pull out the numbers, in my opinion.

Basically, what they are saying is that the flu virus oscillates between two different types. They found that if you were exposed to one type as a child then you were less likely to suffer that same type of flu as an adult. Somehow your immune system learned something about that as a child that stayed with you for life.

The effect was not black and white, but it seemed clear. People in their 40s and early 50s suffered the H1N1 virus at roughly twice the rate they suffered the H3N2 flu virus. For those over 70 the effect was reversed, but not as pronounced.
Signguy
Consider that it's been found that the phases of the moon affect the survival of surgery patients...just say'in...
ChrisHowells
In 1970 I was poleaxed by the Hong Kong Flu.....only time in my life that I truly wanted to die. Since then I have never contracted any kind of flu, have never had a flu injection, and apart from the occasional seasonal sniffle have always had good health.