Every year we get flu shots (or should get them) to stave off the horrible, miserable disease that is the influenza virus. However, until recently, it wasn’t exactly known how often people do get the flu—how much misery are we actually fending off by getting jabbed? (One thing to note is that the flu can kill, so for many people flu shots aren’t just a way to avoid temporary sickness, but can actually save a life. Get vaccinated!)
A recent study conducted by the London school of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine performed sero-archeology on a large cohort of Chinese individuals. Every time someone is infected with the flu, the body produces antibodies against the particular strain of infecting virus. These antibodies get remember in the body and can still be found circulating. Sero-archeology is the technique of “digging up” these antibodies from previous infections. In this way, scientists can learn what infections a person ahs contracted over the course of his or her lifetime.
In this way, the scientists tracked the presence of memory antibodies, looking for ones which are related to the H3N2 strains that circulated in China from 1968-2009. In this way they were able to get an idea of how many times a person contracted the flu over a given time frame.
The results? The average adult over the age of 30 (at least in China) appears to get the flu twice every ten years. Children, unsurprisingly, appear to get the virus every other year.
Original Paper: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002082