According to a study conducted by two US Universities, a person’s date of birth can accurately predict flu risk.
A team of medical researcher from the Universities of Arizona and California has discovered that an individual’s odds of becoming infected with a certain influenza strain can be determined using his date of birth as a reference.
As the scientists explain, the first time your body is exposed to a pathogen, it awakens your immune system, which, in turn, starts producing antibodies. Moreover, the next time you are infected with a similar pathogen, your immune system will know exactly what to do in order to stop the infection.
But what happens when your body encounters a new type of pathogen or a new strain of influenza? This is what the team of scientists wanted to find out. In the study’s introduction, the scientists wrote that the purpose of the study was to learn what happens during a ‘virgin soil influenza pandemic’.
In this case, ‘virgin soil’ refers to a population which is not immune to a new type of infection. To put things into perspective, the researchers decide to put under the microscope two common strains of influenza – H5N1 and H7N9, both of them being avian flu strains.
As we know, H5N1 and H7N9 are quite contagious. While the first strain affects mainly children and young adults, the latter affects senior citizens. A WHO report indicates that H5N1 has killed 452 individuals since 2003, while H7N9 killed 124 patients.
After analyzing each case file, the team came up with an explanation that accounts for this figures. According to Michael Worobey, a viral genetics researcher, when our bodies are faced with a new pathogen, the viral agent sort of imprints on our immune system.
In other words, after your body is invaded by an unknown pathogen, your immune system will kick in to fend off the attacker. In the process, Worobey added, your immune system doesn’t only concoct the recipe to fight off the attacker, but it also ‘learns’ from the encounter, so that next time it will be prepared.
Furthermore, your date of birth is a very important aspect, since each year, a different strain of influenza emerges.
Worobey is confident that the study’s result will help doctors easily identify patients who are at risk and to prevent a flu epidemic.
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