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Imprinting your immune system to flu virus

The first type of flu virus you encounter in your life – in infancy or early toddler-hood – might determine your ability to fight the flu for the rest of your life, according to a new study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases from a Canadian team of researchers.

This is all, this paper claims, because of something called ‘antigenic imprinting’, meaning that whichever of the strains of flu virus that are circulating when you are first exposed to flu virus, “imprints” itself on your immune system and that in turn strongly influences the way your immune system will respond to a flu virus for the rest of your life.

In other words, if you are first exposed to a flu virus during a peak year for an H1N1-type flu virus, you will do much better when a similar virus strain circulates in the future than would someone whose first exposure to flu virus came during a year when an H3N2 virus strain predominated.

Can you use this information in the real world?

Not yet, but perhaps you might one day when they become able to tailor specific flu vaccines to each person’s immune system.