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Flu Risks are Linked to Your Birth Year

November 30, 2016
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Being sick with the flu as a child may actually have an influence on your health as an adult. New studies have shown that the flu strains that you were exposed to in your youth may be protecting you currently against related flu viruses—even reducing your risk of future infection by up to 75 percent. Michael Worobey, a professor and the head of the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of Arizona, co-authored a study that suggests a sort of imprinting of immunity from the first time you are exposed to influenza A viruses. Essentially, your body remembers how to respond to the attack on your immune system from before, which, for Worobey and those involved in the research, came as quite a surprise. The researchers used data from epidemiological records on all of the known human cases of influenza subtypes and then estimated the likelihood that the infection would spread to children around the world during that time. They found that for those born after 1968, due to an influenza pandemic from group 2-dominated viruses of that same year, they were less likely to suffer or die from a group 2 virus later in life. This exposure in their youth not only reduced the risk of a severe infection but also the risk of death by around 80 percent. These findings, although they require more research, are able to provide key information for scientists attempting to improve vaccinations and strategies for future pandemics. The viruses in the study are both influenza strains that have potential to become pandemics and a danger to global health. These new findings do not guarantee an easy cure or a list of those who will be immune to this year’s strain of the virus. Worobey emphasizes that this does not negate the importance of getting yourself vaccinated this flu season.
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