Gene variants not linked to flu deaths

20 December 2011

New research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that certain genetic variants are not linked to deaths from influenza in children and young adults.
Influenza (flu) is a relatively mild and self-limiting illness in most cases, but can be fatal among vulnerable groups such as the very old, very young or people with compromised immune systems. Occasionally, it may also cause unexpected deaths in apparently healthy children and younger adults, and this is a worrying public health issue.
Writing in Emerging Infectious Diseases, US researchers report analysis of DNA from 105 children and young adults who died from influenza, looking at single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in two key genes associated with immune responses to viral infections - tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and mannose-binding lectin 2 (MBL2).
None of the SNPs showed association, refuting the theory that the people who died might have had a genetic vulnerability to the virus via these two genes. However, MBL2 variants in patients who died were apparently linked with co-infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria.

Comment: This is an example of how host genomics may become an important element of public health research for the control of infectious diseases. In this case, the authors propose that larger-scale genomic research into factors that affect susceptibility to serious complications from common viral infections is appropriate. 

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