A recent study supports a theory that seasonal flu vaccines may
offer a slight amount of protection against bird flu, Italian
researchers reported Wednesday.
Cristiana Gioia, Maria Capobianchi and colleagues at the
National Institute for Infectious Diseases Lazzaro Spallanzani in
Rome tested the blood of 42 volunteers who had been vaccinated
against seasonal influenza.
In the laboratory, they added H5N1 virus to the blood and found
that in some of the volunteers immune system antibodies acted
against the bird flu virus.
They also found a few immune cells called CD4 T-cells seemed to
recognize and act against the H5N1 virus "and seasonal vaccine
administration enhanced the frequency of such reactive CD4
T-cells," they wrote in the journal Emerging Infectious
"Our findings indicate that seasonal vaccination can raise
neutralizing immunity against (H5N1 avian influenza) virus," the
This could help explain why H5N1, which only rarely affects
people, is even rarer among the elderly, Gioia's team wrote.
"This finding may be explained by hypothesizing that older
people, although not previously exposed to H5N1 subtype, may have
gained protective immunity by previous infections sustained by
circulating influenza virus strains," they wrote.
Health experts around the world are trying to boost rates of
annual flu vaccination for two reasons -- because flu itself kills
between 250,000 and 500,000 people a year, and also to help the
world prepare for a pandemic.
(Agencies via Xinhua News Agency December 28, 2007)