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Half of people born with natural flu protection

Tuesday 23rd June 2015
A new study has shown that nearly half of people are born with natural protection against the flu virus. Image Credit: Thinkstock
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Researchers at University College London have found that nearly half of people are born with natural protection, which can safeguard them against flu. 

The team conducted tests on 1,414 people and found that T-cells in the immune system were able to launch attacks on the virus that were common to many different strains of flu. Published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, it is hoped the findings will help develop a "universal flu vaccine".

Speaking to BBC News, Professor Andrew Hayward, from University College London, said developing a T-cell vaccine for flu could protect against a wide range of strains.

He added that it could increase the level of protection given to elderly people, who often don't have the same immune response to the current vaccine as young people.

One of the main problems with the flu virus, however, is that it can adapt to change its appearance, making the immune system's antibodies useless. This is why a new flu vaccine needs to be developed each year to continue protection for the most vulnerable.

However, T-cells are different as they are able to target specific parts of flu that change less frequently. This means that after exposure to one type of the virus, people can be protected against others.

The research at UCL suggested that 43 per cent of the 1,500 unvaccinated people tested had "cross-protection" to seasonal and pandemic flus.

Professor Hayward told the news provider that every now and then they predict the antibodies that go into the seasonal flu vaccine wrong, so there is a mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating flu.

Cross-protection could limit the impact of any mismatch and play a role in pandemics when new flu viruses emerged, he added. 

"Having a cross-protective vaccine could allow it to be used much earlier in the pandemic and could make a difference in the spread and ultimate size of the pandemic," he said.

Written by Alex Franklin Stortford

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