Genetic basis for severe flu - News & Features

27 December 2013
Genetic basis for severe flu

Scientists have discovered a genetic basis for severe flu. Patients with a particular genetic variation are more likely to suffer the severe form of the recently-emerged H7N9 flu, currently found in China.

Looking at blood and lung samples, the team from the University of Melbourne found that a genetic variant of a protein called IFITM3 drives higher levels of cytokines and can lead to a condition known as a cytokine storm. 

In a cytokine storm, the patient's own immune reaction can lead to life-threatening symptoms. This is thought to have affected many of the people who died in the 1918 pandemic flu outbreak.

Being able to predict the reaction of individuals to infection with H7N9 could prove extremely valuable in the management of the disease, enabling early intervention before a patient becomes gravely ill.

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