Health & Medicine

Does your birth year determine your immunity to the flu?

If you’re deciding whether to get a flu shot or not, you might want to take your birthday into account, a new study suggests.

Research published this week by UCLA and the University of Arizona found that birth year is a significant predictor for what strains of the influenza virus a person will be susceptible to as an adult.

Flu viruses are generally categorized into two groups, with H1, H2 and avian H5 in group one and H3 and avian H7 in group two. The recent findings confirm that early exposure to a strain in either group will provide broad spectrum protection against other strains in the same category later in life.

For example, individuals born before 1968 likely experienced their first flu infection from a group-one virus, and those individuals appear to be protected against other viruses of the same group, according to a news release about the study. Initial infection with a group-two virus, often the case for those born after 1968, appears to protect against viruses in that group. In either group, early exposure reduced the risk of severe infection from those particular strains later in life by about 75 percent.

This year’s influenza vaccine protects against both H1 and H3 strains, meaning it would offer some level of protection for people in both groups.

“In a way it’s a good-news, bad-news story,” said Michael Worobey, University of Arizona ecologist and senior author, in a statement. “Your first infection sets you up for either success or failure in a huge way, even against ‘novel’ flu strains. The bad news is the very same imprinting that provides such great protection may be difficult to alter with vaccines. A good universal vaccine should provide protection where you lack it most, but the epidemiological data suggest we may be locked into strong protection against just half of the family tree of flu strains.”

Problematic Alzheimer’s protein may also contribute to schizophrenia

Excessive amounts of a brain protein called STEP (Striatal-enriched protein tyrosine Phosphatase) previously have been found in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and fragile X syndrome. A new study from Yale University reveals that the excess, which disrupts synapse function and causes cognitive decline, is also present in some people with schizophrenia.

Researchers recently have been experimenting with a drug that inhibits the STEP protein, but developing it for human use has proved difficult, according to a Yale news release. The October study found that reducing STEP activity could improve cognitive deficits in mice that showed schizophrenic behavior.

“These findings suggest that a STEP inhibitor, when discovered, may be the basis of a new drug that can treat a number of neuropsychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Paul Lombroso, lead author, in the release.

Pig organs pose a danger

Thinking about frying some pig heart for dinner? Scientists at UC Davis say skip it.

Neu5Gc, a sugar molecule common in red meat that increases the risk of tumor formation in humans, is also prevalent in pig organs, according to a new study by researchers from the UC Davis School of Medicine and Xiamen University School of Medicine. The sugar’s concentrations increase as the organs are cooked.

The molecule has been linked to cancer as well as to cardiovascular and other inflammatory diseases, including some bacterial infections. The new study is the first to find that levels are much higher in pig organs such as the spleen, lungs, heart and kidney than in other meats, according to a UC Davis news release.

The study has particular relevance in China, where pig organs are widely consumed, researchers said, though the western culinary movement has showed increasing interest in eating all parts of animals.

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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