A team of researchers from the University of Michigan in the US has found the reasons why older people are more susceptible to flu infection.
The study, whose results were published yesterday in the journal Nature Communication, investigated why immune cells called alveolar macrophages, the first line of defense in the lungs, become compromised with age.
These macrophages are immune cells that live in the small air sacs, or alveoli, inside the lungs that attack invaders such as the flu virus.
But with age, the presence of an immune modulator of lipids known as prostaglandins increases, and this increase affects macrophages in the lung, limiting their overall health and ability to mount an immune response.
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To test the link between prostaglandins and increased susceptibility to influenza, the research team treated aged mice with a drug that blocks the prostaglandin receptor.
“Older mice that received this drug actually had more alveolar macrophages and were better protected from influenza infection than older mice that did not receive the drug,” lead author Judy Chen said in the study report.
The team next plans to investigate how prostaglandins affect the lung and their possible role in inflammation in the body.
“As we get older, we become more susceptible not only to influenza, but also to other infections, cancers, autoimmune diseases,” Chen added.
During the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the flu virus did not spread as much as it used to for a while, as lockdowns helped prevent the virus from entering circulation.
However, the risk of flu is expected to increase in the coming winter season, especially for people over 65.