Scientists found a stronger immune response to influenza in people who were infected as children

June 20, 2024  01:38

An international team of microbiologists and infectious disease specialists from Australia and the US has found that children exposed to different variants of influenza B show a stronger immune response to the same strain when they become adults.

In their study, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, the team analyzed data on serum samples collected from patients over a nearly 100-year period.

Clinicians have long suspected that early infection with certain strains of influenza virus could protect adults from the same strain in later life.

In this new paper, the research team attempted to prove this theory by measuring antibody levels in 1,499 serum samples collected from flu patients between 1917 and 2008 in the United States and Australia, and comparing the immune response to these and other flu strains at later ages. They found that the highest antibody concentrations in a given serum sample tended to correspond to the strain of influenza that was most prevalent in the patient's childhood typically during the first five to 10 years of life.

The patterns they found indicate that early infection with the influenza virus influences the behavior of the immune system when exposed to the same strain of influenza virus B later in life.

They also found that the immune system tends to respond more strongly to strains similar to those identified in childhood. The team suggests that this discovery could open new avenues for research into the best way to deal with flu outbreaks.

If it is known at the start of an epidemic or pandemic that certain people are likely to be immune to the strain causing the new outbreak, it could reduce the need for widespread vaccination, making it easier to slow the spread of the disease and reduce its impact.

The scientists also note that their discovery could lead to attempts to understand why early exposure triggers a later immune response.

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