Your Likelihood of Getting the Flu May Depend on Your Age

Wash your hands, avoid the sick co-worker, don’t go outside with wet hair—we hear all of these things when flu season rolls around. While germ avoidance and top-notch hand hygiene are pretty good prevention tips, some of the factors that keep certain influenza strains at bay are rather surprising—for example, our age.

There is nothing magical about the number of years you’ve been on this Earth, when it comes to flu prevention, but what you have or haven’t been exposed to along the way plays a role in how sick you can become today. It turns out, exposure to certain flu strains early in life may reduce your susceptibility to similar strains when you get older.

A recent study of over 1,400 people, primarily from Asia and the Middle East, found that exposure to varieties of the bird flu correlated with their risk of contracting a similar illness later in life. Those exposed to H5N1 or H7N9 before the year 1968 were less likely to become affected by similar strains when they grew older. The phenomenon is referred to as “childhood imprinting.”

While the concept sounds like common sense, it actually challenges a widely-held belief about the risk of viruses which jump from animal to human-animal populations. Katelyn Gostic, lead study author and graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said, “In the past, we always assumed that when pandemic flu viruses emerge from animals, the human population is an immunological blank slate.” In other words, scientists typically believed anyone and everyone were at equal risk when a new flu strain popped up—but, it seems this is not the case.

The knowledge that some individuals have an immunity to certain flu strains, based on previous exposure, is extremely valuable to public health officials and researchers looking for ways to protect the general population from pandemics. If those “imprinted” upon in childhood are protected against a dreadful illness—and even death—this can give communities and problem-solvers hope.

As we head, full-force, into flu season, there are other precautions you can take to reduce your risk and boost your immune system—with or without the addition of a flu shot. If you’re unlucky enough to end up with the flu, there are tons of natural remedies to ease your weary soul. Stay healthy this season!

Photo credit: Thinkstock

57 comments

Melania P
Melania Padilla1 years ago

Thanks!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Angela G.
Angela G1 years ago

ok

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Elaine W.
Elaine W1 years ago

Keep your spirits up and your feet dry.

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

Thankyou!

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen1 years ago

Thank you

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen1 years ago

Thank you

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heather g.
heather g1 years ago

I have the flu injections each year and have been protected - and hope to stay so.

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Janet B.
Janet B1 years ago

Thanks

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Rita Odessa
Rita O1 years ago

The last time I was sick was 2009, yes I keep track because it is so rare for me. I am not sure if it was a head cold or a flu sometimes it's hard to tell. Sometimes I feel like I have a super hero immune system for this reason. However I am sure the fact that a run is another, my nose is always running my system is sweating so toxins are released. Either way I am healthy have never had a flu shot and don't plan to anytime soon.

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