FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

Indigenous groups may be more vulnerable to flu

Australian researchers discovered that some indigenous groups may be more susceptible to the effects of H7N9 influenza, according to a study recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team from the University of Melbourne found that some indigenous people such as in Australia and Alaska displayed limited immunity to the effects of influenza. The findings suggested that some groups have a genetic makeup that keeps them from fighting off the virus.

"The findings suggested that there may be ethnic differences in the ability to mount an immune response to the H7N9 virus," Katherine Kedzierska, the senior author of the study, said. "Due to genetic differences in a protein complex involved in cell-mediated immune responses, people may vary in their ability to mount this kind of immune response against the H7N9 influenza virus that emerged unexpectedly in February."

Since it emerged in China, the H7N9 avian flu virus infected more than 140 humans with a high mortality rate of 30 percent.

Peter Doherty, a lead author of the study, said the findings shed light on what happened during a catastrophic flu pandemic during the 1918-1919 flu season. The pandemic killed up to 100 percent of adults in some isolated Alaskan villages and as many as 10 to 20 percent of indigenous Australians.

"The genetic susceptibility of indigenous Australian and Alaskans would have resulted from isolation of indigenous populations from the viruses like influenza," Kedzierska said. "The indigenous populations were not subjected to evolutionary pressures caused by the viruses over the centuries."