The 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed between 20 and 40 million people after World War I, was a global disaster. But the disease which infected nearly a fifth of the world's population may actually bring some good news to those who lived to tell the tale. A new study claims that the survivors of the pandemic may have developed permanent immunity to the virus behind the killer disease.
The findings attain significance as they may offer a new approach to battle future epidemics, say researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
During a study on mice, the researchers found that the antibodies derived from the B cells of 1918 influenza pandemic survivors served as an effective therapy to against the infection.
Dr. Osvaldo Martinez, post-doctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, believes that the fact that one can isolate these B cells so long after infection will hopefully provide the impetus to further study the mechanisms behind long lived immunity.
For the analysis, Dr. Eric Altschuler at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey looked at 32 pandemic survivors.
The subjects were asked to donate blood, which was further tested in the lab for antibodies.
Dr. James Crowe and colleagues at Vanderbilt University produced antibodies from the subjects' blood cells, and provided them to Dr. Baslera's lab, where the potent neutralizing activity against 1918 virus was demonstrated.
Antibodies were also provided to Dr. Terrence Tumpey at the CDC to test in mice the strength of the antibodies derived from the 1918 survivors.
"Our findings show that survivors of the pandemic have highly effective, virus neutralizing antibodies to this powerful virus, and humans can sustain circulating B memory cells to viruses for up to 9 decades after exposure," Nature magazine quoted Dr. Tshidi Tsibane, post-doctoral fellow, Department of Microbiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, as saying.