The first immunological clue of why some H1N1 patients develop chronic pneumonia or die has been found by a new research team of Canadian and Spanish scientists.
The team from the Hospital Clinico Universitario de Valladolid in Spain and the University Health Network discovered high concentrations of a molecule called interleukin 17 in the bloodstream of patients with severe H1N1, and low levels in people affected by the mild form of the pandemic disease.
Although, Interleukin 17 is vital for the normal functioning of the disease fighting white blood cells, sometimes the molecule gets "out of control", which leads to inflammation and autoimmune diseases.
Dr. David Kelvin, lead researcher of the Canadian team and Professor of Immunology, University of Toronto, said: "In rare cases, the virus causes lung infections requiring patients to be treated in hospital. By targeting or blocking TH17 in the future, we could potentially reduce the amount of inflammation in the lungs and speed up recovery," While pointing out that the clinical application of their research was still not fully possible, Dr. Kelvin noted that a test to detect high levels of the Interleukin 17 is possible in the near future.
He said: "A diagnostic test could let us know early who is at risk for the severe form of this illness quickly."
The scientists' research paper titled, "Th1 and Th17 hypercytokinemia as early host response signature in severe pandemic influenza" has appeared in the December issue of the Journal of Critical Care.