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Study Explains Why Chinese Experience Severe Flu

Update Date: Jan 30, 2013 06:05 AM EST

A new study explains how a genetic variant in the Chinese population raises the risk of people in China having more severe cases of swine flu or H1N1 infection as compared to others.

Researchers say that the study will help identify the high-risk population and provide treatment to this group sooner, to prevent an outbreak.

Research team led by Dr. Tao Dong of the University of Oxford found that people who carried a particular gene variant called rs12252-C are about 6 times more likely to suffer from a really bad case of influenza than people who didn't have the gene variant.

Study teams in the U.K. and China found that the genetic variant was present in nearly 70 percent of Chinese patients who suffered from severe cases of swine flu in 2009, while just 25 percent of patients with mild cases of flu had this variant.

"Understanding why some people may be worse affected than others is crucial in improving our ability to manage flu epidemics and to prevent people dying from the virus. It's vital that we continue to fund research that examines flu from the smallest details of our genetic code, in the populations around the world that continue to be vulnerable to infection," said Dr Tao Dong of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The present study doesn't explain the vulnerability of the population to the flu, rather explains why people in this region experience more severe versions of the flu. Researchers say that this happens because the protein (called IFITM3) that is known to defend the body against the infection doesn't work effectively due to the changes in the DNA, according to a news release from the University of Oxford.

"The apparent effect of this gene variant on the severity of influenza is of great interest. It remains to be seen how this gene affects the whole picture of influenza in South East Asia but it might help explain why new influenza viruses often first appear in this region of the world," said professor Andrew McMichael, co-author of the study at the University of Oxford. 

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