Why some people don't get the flu

Your immune system response to a flu virus determines whether or not you will get sick, and that immune reaction can be observed through gene activity, according to a new study.

Researchers examined more than 22,000 genes in 267 blood samples from 17 healthy volunteers who were infected with a flu virus. There were significant and complex differences in the immune responses between the half of the participants who got sick and those who didn't, the investigators found.

The gene activity, or expression, data revealed how the volunteers' immune systems reacted and organised a response to flu virus. Differences in gene expressions between those who got sick and those who remained healthy were measurable up to about 36 hours before peak flu symptoms developed.

Genes and the flu

This suggests that it may be possible to detect flu at an early stage so that people can take precautions and perhaps even prevent the worst symptoms, study author Alfred Hero, a professor at the University of Michigan's College of Engineering, said in a university news release.

In addition, an understanding of how genes influence susceptibility to flu and other viral illnesses could lead to treatments to prevent those illnesses, the study authors explained.

The study is published in the journal PLoS Genetics.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about influenza.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Aug. 25, 2011

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