A new theory to explain why swine flu infections in 2009 turned out to be so mild has been expounded by Hong Kong researchers.
And they have said that prior exposure to seasonal influenza A, either infection or vaccination, may induce a cross-reactive immune response against the pandemic virus.
Although the outbreak of human H1N1 in 2009 spread to pandemic proportions, the illness was considered mild in most patients compared to seasonal influenza.
Currently available seasonal flu vaccines do not offer cross-reactivity to pandemic H1N1 in any age group, which suggests that individuals previously infected or exposed to seasonal influenza A viruses may have memory cell-induced cross-protection to pandemic H1N1.
Earlier research showed humans having cross-reactive memory cells to a wide range of H5N1 peptides despite any previous exposure to avian influenza A (H5N1).
In this study, researchers determined that memory cells established by seasonal influenza viruses can break down pandemic H1N1-infected target cells and ultimately induce cross-protective antibodies.
"Our data suggest that individuals who were infected with seasonal human influenza A viruses previously or who received seasonal human influenza vaccines may derive benefit, at least in part, from the preexisting cross-reactive memory cytotoxic T lymphocytes to reduce the severity of pdmH1N1 infection even without protective antibodies," said the researchers.
The study is published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Virology.