According to a new study, a person’s birth year may affect the efficiency of a flu shot as scientists discovered that the type of flu which first affects a patient determines their future immunity.
One of its big mysteries of flu is the great number of young people it killed during the Spanish influenza period. The results of this research led to a surprising find which might influence our future vaccination patterns and plans.
The research on flu types was done by a team of University of Arizona scientists led by Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist, and was published in the Science journal.
It is well-known fact that dominant flu strains encounter changes and mutations throughout time, and according to Worobey’s study, the flu strain encountered as a child may have an effect on their future encounters with the disease.
The new study sought to explain the deadly effects of the Spanish influenza by looking at two new flu strains, the H5N1 and H7N9 avian types.
Their findings suggest that as opposed to previous misconceptions, a new flu virus does not appear as a completely blank state against which the population does not have any immunity at all.
As such, by determining the flu strain to which one was exposed as a child might help determine the types to which one is most vulnerable and lead to a change in the future flu shot strategies.
This would also mean that the exposure as a human child to a certain type may also ensure their protection against a somewhat related, but not completely, avian flu type of virus.
The research was based on data gathered in between 1997 and 2015 from a number of 6 countries and analyzed the results the two aforementioned strains had on people.
As both types were avian strains of the virus, previous belief would have suggested that all people should have been equally vulnerable to them.
But data showed that was not the case as the number of people to have been killed or affected by the H7N9 was bigger in those born before 1968. The same was observed when studying the H5N1 which affected more young people which were born after 1968.
As the year 1968 kept appearing, it was established that this was the year in which the dominant flu type changed from H1N1 to H3N2.
This marked the change which explained why some people were more or less protected against the avian viruses.
The scientists established that a person’s immune system develops around the first type of flu it encounters and as such, leads to a lifelong immunity to the flu types and subtypes which are similar to the first strain which infected them.
Their discoveries are very important as they could help in the creation of a universal vaccine and flu shot and especially in establishing the order of vaccination in epidemic cases.
It also opened the door to more research as scientists will now be looking both into the flu virus’s biology and also that of the people it affects.
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