As we get older we tend to follow new scientific discoveries which can explain our vulnerability to all kinds of disease simply because we feel that our immunity becomes weaker with age. Now we are told that our age might determine whether we have immunity to a global flu pandemic, a study has found. Getting infected with a certain flu virus as a child could affect an individual’s resistance to new strains emerging from animals, researchers have said. The scientists also discovered that people born before a pandemic in 1968, known as Hong Kong Flu, are protected from different strains compared with those born later.

They analysed data of the 1,400 so far infected with two strains of Bird Flu seen in Asia. Children and young people have tended to get the H5NI strain, while H7N9 mainly affects older people. Although both types are very different, they have similarities to more common strains that are widely circulating. Scientists found that the strain people were first infected with as children determined which of the new strains they were protected against.

‘The first infections set you up for either success or failure in a huge way, even against “novel” flu strains,’ said Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona, the senior author of the paper. ‘We’re not a completely blank slate when it comes to how susceptible we are to these emerging flu viruses. Even if we have never been exposed to H5 or H7 viruses we have some kick-ass protection against one or the other.’ Writing in the journal Science he said that people were 75-80% protected against a new strain if they had been exposed to a similar type as children. ‘If either of these viruses was to successfully jump from birds into humans we now know something about the age groups that would be hit the hardest,’ Dr Worobey said.

Global health experts fear a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic if animal strains mutate to spread quickly between humans. The outbreak killed tens of millions and young people were particularly badly hit. Dr Worobey said:

‘Those young adults were killed by an H1 virus and from blood analysed many decades later, there is a pretty strong indication that those individuals had been exposed to a mismatched H3 as children and were therefore not protected against H1. The fact that we are seeing exactly the same pattern with current H5N1 and HSN9 cases suggest that the same fundamental processes may govern both the historic 1918 pandemic and today’s contenders for the next big flu pandemic.’

The more one learns about the various strains of flu the more vigilant one must be. The only protection one can take is to keep your immune system in good shape, lead a healthy life with as little excesses as possible and ask the Good Lord for his protection.

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