New 1918 influenza findings

This week two new findings were published about the 1918 influenza pandemic. The first looked at preserved lung tissue from soldiers that died from the pandemic. They examined 58 samples and found that in most cases the predominant disease at the time of death appeared to have been bacterial pneumonia. It is hypothesized that influenza virus damaged the cells of the tissue lining the lung allowing the bacteria to invade and eventually led to death of the host. The authors of the study concluded:

“if severe pandemic influenza is largely a problem of viral-bacterial copathogenesis [double infection], pandemic planning needs to go beyond addressing the viral cause alone (e.g., influenza vaccines and antiviral drugs). Prevention, diagnosis, prophylaxis, and treatment of secondary bacterial pneumonia, as well as stockpiling of antibiotics and bacterial vaccines, should also be high priorities for pandemic planning.”

Click here to read the original scientific article in the Journal of Infectious Disease or here to read a ScienceDaily news report

The second finding examined if people that survived the flu had antibodies against the 1918 influenza pandemic in their body. The researchers collected blood samples from 32 survivors age 91-101 years and found that all reacted to the 1918 virus, suggesting that they still possessed antibodies to the virus. One of the researchers, Dr. James Crowe Jr., stated

"The B cells have been waiting for at least 60 years – if not 90 years – for that flu to come around again. That's amazing…because it's the longest memory anyone's ever demonstrated."

The research team went on to see if the antibody protected against the 1918 strain of influenza by infecting mice with the influenza. Some had been treated with the antibodies – others had not. They found that the mice receiving the highest dose of antibodies survived and the others died. For a well written summary of the research in ScienceDaily click here.

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