The Flu Season
We are coming up on flu season and with it we will be getting the requisite recommendations from various mass media sources to get the flu vaccine to prevent the flu this coming winter. Presently about 40% of adults get the flu shot. Worldwide about 1 million people die of the flu each year, and here in the U.S. there are 200,000 hospitalizations and death rates in the U.S. range from 3,000 to 49,000 annually.
Ninety-five percent of the deaths attributed to the flu each year worldwide occur in people aged 65 or more. In April of this year a study from Yale University suggests that death from influenza in older people may be more related to our bodies damaging response to the flu and not the virus itself. To understand why, the research observed differences in the way our immune cells react to the virus when we are older vs when we are younger. The key difference was the secretion of key antiviral proteins called interferons and they were significantly decreased in an older population. Therefore, this diminished response led to unchecked viral replication and led to an inflammatory response that increased mortality. The conclusions from the study is that the immune system in older people was unable to activate a specific white blood cell called a neutrophil to further activate an anti-inflammatory enzyme known as inflammasome caspases.