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How Your First Flu Shapes Your Immune Response


People tend to react to different strains of the flu in different ways. It’s why some people may be hospitalized while others get over the same strain within a week or so. The reason behind this goes back to the very first strain of flu to which a person is exposed. The first flu virus a person hosts determines how their immune response to the flu is shaped.

How Imprinting Affects Getting the Flu

Generally speaking, adults between the age of 50 and 64 have the same hospitalization rate as children under the age of four. This year, Baby Boomers have had a higher hospitalization rate than younger children, and this can be traced back to the phenomenon of imprinting.

Imprinting refers to how the immune system reacts to the first flu virus to which it’s exposed. If it’s exposed to a weaker strain, then it may have trouble later in the individual’s life when they come into contact with stronger strains. The flu virus has a protein called hemagglutinin on the surface. When the hemagglutinin on newer strains is similar to the first virus the immune system encountered, the immune system will have an easier time producing antibodies and will be able to do so more quickly once it detects the resemblance of the proteins.

One of the reasons that Baby Boomers are getting sicker this year is because of the strain of flu that many of them first encountered. In 1968, there was a flu pandemic in which the virus had a very specific type of protein called H3 on the surface. Anyone born before that year was not imprinted with this strain. This year, the most prevalent strain is H3N2. Those who were imprinted with an H3 strain can more easily fight off the virus than those who weren’t, which is why so many Baby Boomers have been negatively affected.

The first strain of flu you encounter can affect how you deal with new strains every year. Find out more about fighting the flu by visiting us at The Benefits Store today.

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