Thursday, November 17, 2016

Birth year seems to determine whether one is immune to H5N1 or H7N9

It has been known that H5N1 influenza tends to affect children and young adults, while H7N9 affects mostly middle-aged and older people. A recent article in Science suggest one reason why this is the case.  The researchers found that people infected with H5N1 influenza who were born before 1968 were 75% less likely to suffer from a severe case and 80% less likely to die than those born after 1968. Conversely, people infected with H7N9 influenza who were born after 1968 were less likely to have severe cases than those born earlier.

This is attributed to original antigenic sin, the idea that when encountering a pathogen, the immune system uses immunological memory based on a previous response to a similar antigen. Recent studies have shown that there is cross-immunity against viruses in the same hemagluttinin (HA) group. HA group 1 contains human seasonal subtypes H1, H2, and avian H5; group 2 contains seasonal H3 and avian H7. In 1968, H3N2 caused the pandemic known as the Hong Kong flu. Prior to 1968, most people were first exposed to viruses with H1 or H2 proteins, which would also protect them from viruses with H5 proteins, such as H5N1. Most people born after the Hong Kong flu were likely first exposed to viruses with H3 proteins, which would also protect them from viruses with the H7 protein, such as H7N9.

-Sally Tran


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