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Survivors of 1918 Flu Pandemic Immune 90 Years Later
Date:8/17/2008

Finding could lead to new strategies for fighting future pandemics, researchers say

SUNDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- People who lived through the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million worldwide are still producing antibodies to the virus 90 years later, researchers report.

"Most people have a notion that elderly people have very weak immunity or they have lost immunity," said lead researcher Dr. James E. Crowe Jr., a professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University.

"This study shows that extremely elderly people have retained memory of being infected with the 1918 flu, even 90 years later," Crowe said.

This is the first evidence that shows that people developed significant immunity to the 1918 flu virus, Crowe said. "It's important to know that you can develop immunity to such a pandemic virus. That has implications for new pandemic viruses," he said.

The report is published in the Aug. 17 issue of Nature.

For the study, Crowe's team studied antibodies in the blood of 32 people in their 90s and 100s, born during or before 1915. They found that all 32 people had antibodies to the 1918 strain of flu virus. In fact, several of these people were still producing the antibodies to the virus.

In experiments with mice, the researchers found that these antibodies continue to protect the mice from infection with the 1918 flu strain.

The study also shows that people have a "surprising ability" to maintain immunity to things they saw a long time ago, Crowe said.

Whether this long-term immunity is peculiar to the 1918 flu virus isn't known, Crowe said. He believes more work needs to be done understand the full extent of this immune response. "The elderly might be a very good donor source for finding antibodies against viruses," he said.

"This study shows that humans can develop very potent immune responses against
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