How to predict severe reactions to China’s new flu

"We are exploring how genetic sequencing and early identification can allow us to intervene in treating patients before they become too unwell, says Peter Doherty. (Credit: Tricia Wang/Flickr)

A genetic marker can accurately predict which patients will experience severe reactions to a new strain of influenza currently found in China.

Katherine Kedzierska an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne and senior author of the study, says that being able to predict which patients will be more susceptible to the emerging influenza strain, will allow clinicians to better manage an early intervention strategy. The findings are published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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“By using genetic markers to blood and lung samples, we have discovered that there are certain indicators that signal increased susceptibility to this influenza. Higher than normal levels of cytokines, driven by a genetic variant of a protein called IFITM3, tells us that the severe disease is likely,” Kedzierska explains.

“We call this a cytokine storm and people with the defective genetic variant of the protein IFITM3 are more likely to succumb to severe influenza infection.”

Professor Peter Doherty, a lead author of the study, says predicting how influenza works in individuals has implications for the management of disease and the resources on our health system.

“We are exploring how genetic sequencing and early identification can allow us to intervene in treating patients before they become too unwell. As new cases of influenza emerge in the Northern Hemisphere, we try to keep a season ahead and prepare to protect the most vulnerable in our community,” he says.

Though the new strain, known as H7N9, has not been found in Australia, researchers are collaborating closely with Jianqing Xu and his group from the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center in China. In addition to this, Zhongfang Wang, an NHMRC Australian-China Exchange Fellow is also working closely with the researchers.

Source: University of Melbourne