Being exposed to influenza viruses during childhood partially protects people throughout their entire lives against a series of distantly related influenza viruses, according to a new study. The research, published in the journal Science, contains an analysis of more than 1,400 avian cases.
According to the results of the study, there is an immunity against viruses circulating in animals. However, there has been no human recordings up until now. Consequently, people who were born before the year 1968 are susceptible to catching different viruses than people born during or after that year.
Your Birth Year - Key Factor In Getting The Flu
The researchers charted two types of viruses, H5N1 and H7N9, each of which have affected more than 700 people, mainly in Asia and the Middle East. Because of their impact, these two viral roots raise the greatest concern for both animals and humans.
As both of the viruses have been proven to be transmitted human to human — although this capacity is limited in most of the cases — the scenario in which they would slightly adapt to the population could translate in an epidemic. However, the discovery that most fascinated the researchers is that the two viruses seem to have an effect on different age groups. H5N1 is more dangerous for children and young adults, while H7N9 generally affects a more adult population.
There have been numerous attempts to explain this phenomenon. However, the University of California Los Angeles and Arizona researchers believe that the cause for this type of distinct action of the viruses lies in the different pre-immunity characteristics of the two age groups, according to Katelyn Gostic, Ph. D. student at the University of California Los Angeles, and lead author of the research.
Influenza Virus Immunity - Possible To Predict
The scientists now have the possibility to anticipate with relatively good accuracy whether a person will be immune to a new influenza strain, depending on the birth year. This data indicate the type of virus that could have caused the person's first flu infection back during their childhood, which further shows what type of main virus they are immune to.
The conclusions of this research are posing a great challenge over the current paradigm, where it is believed that people can do nothing to stop the spread of a pandemic caused by the influenza virus. On the contrary, based on the age group populations, the results of this study suggest that it could forecast the distribution of the flu, which could then provide the necessary means to be more efficient against its spread.
These predictions would have to be made starting from the demographic information, along with the data of the viruses' activity in time, which is already gathered by general procedure every year in public health agencies.