The Unexpected Reason Why Healthy Children Are So Vulnerable to Dying from the Flu

The Unexpected Reason Why Healthy Children Are So Vulnerable to Dying from the Flu

It's not because their immune systems are still developing.

Every year, 50 percent of the children who die from the flu were previously healthy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. So what makes healthy kids vulnerable to dying from the virus? A new study offers a surprising explanation.

When researchers from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago studied the initial immune response to first-time flu exposure in healthy mice, they found that young mice had an exaggerated immune response, even after the virus was cleared from the body, Science Daily reports. The study's lead author, Bria Coates, MD, a critical care physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, wrote, "The flu was a trigger to the inflammation that their system couldn't turn off, which proved fatal."

The specific cause of the inflammation were immune cells called monocytes, which drifted to the lungs—even causing lung injury—during young mice's initial immune response.

The findings, which are published in the Journal of Immunology, go against the long-held assumption that kids are more prone to dying of the flu because their immune systems are still developing and aren't strong enough to fight off the virus.

Researchers hope the discovery can help scientists craft more effective medicines to treat the flu in children. "We can seek ways to prevent monocytes from coming to the lungs, or we can target monocyte behavior in the lungs to reduce dangerous inflammation," Dr. Coates wrote. She also said that the vaccine can still be useful. "Even when the vaccine is not a perfect match to the circulating influenza strain, as is the case this year, the vaccine still helps prevent more severe infections if children get sick with the flu."

Last week, the CDC said that the vaccine is only 25 percent effective against the worst strain of the flu right now, H3N2.

Already, 84 children have died due to the flu during the 2017 to 2018 flu season, according to the CDC.

Written by Maricar Santos for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Working Mother

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