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BSI response to study showing birth year affects flu susceptibility

Swine flu virus. Credit: NIAID

A paper published today in Science has reported that an individual’s immunity to different strains of flu can vary depending on the year of their birth. The authors found that the susceptibility of an individual to different types of flu was significantly affected by the strain of flu that they were exposed to in childhood.  In response to this report, the BSI has issued the following statement:
Professor Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London said:
“History is clearly important and this remarkable study shows that the immune system is subtly affected by historical infections it encounters in earlier life.
“The paper is about flu but the conclusions may be relevant to other infections, for example why viruses such as Dengue and Zika have such different effects in various populations. Early life history of related infections (even those that caused no symptoms) might programme the immune response in a similar way.
“The age predilection of many infections is puzzling and these findings go some way to providing an explanation. It also raises interesting questions about how the early ‘imprinted’ responses might be un-learnt and reprogrammed towards more relevant responses in later life, and about how the sequence of infections in normal childhood might programme responses to other distantly related pathogens.”  
The full paper that this comment is response to can be found at: Gostic et al. Science doi: 10.1126/science.aag1322
Image credit: NIAID/Flickr