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Immune Response Turned Up By Flu During Pregnancy: Study

Update Date: Sep 23, 2014 10:45 AM EDT

Pregnant women have an unusually strong immune response to influenza, according to a new study.

Findings of the study are surprising because up until now immune responses were thought to be weakened by pregnancy to prevent the women's body from rejecting her fetus. 

The unexpected findings might explain why they get sicker from the flu than other healthy adults. 

The study is first to examine the reactions of immune cells taken from pregnant women to influenza viruses, including the H1N1 strain that caused the 2009 flue pandemic. 

"We were surprised by the overall finding," said Catherine Blish, MD, PhD, assistant professor of infectious diseases and the study's senior author, in the press release. "We now understand that severe influenza in pregnancy is a hyperinflammatory disease rather than a state of immunodeficiency. This means that treatment of flu in pregnancy might have more to do with modulating the immune response than worrying about viral replication."

"If our finding ends up bearing out in future studies, it opens the possibility that we can develop new immune-modulating treatment approaches in the setting of severe influenza, especially in pregnant women," added Alexander Kay, MD, instructor in pediatric infectious diseases and the study's lead author.

The study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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