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This article is from the In-Depth Report A Guide to Swine Flu
60-Second Science

1918 Flu Antibodies Alive and Well

Extremely elderly survivors of the 1918 flu pandemic still have active antibodies that recognize that virus. Karen Hopkin reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.

Some people never forget a face. Others never forget a flu. Even if they were infected more than 90 years ago. A team of American scientists studied 32 people who survived the 1918 flu epidemic. That virus, also called the Spanish flu, killed an estimated 20 to 100 million people worldwide.

Of course many more survived, and some are still around today. The scientists tracked them down and took a small sample of their blood. And they found that all 32 people they tested still had circulating antibodies that could recognize the 1918 flu strain. What’s even more remarkable is that these immune molecules still work. Injecting the antibodies into mice protected the animals from experimental infection with the virus. The results were published online in the journal Nature on August 13th.

The scientists say that these elder antibodies could guide the way to new therapies to ward off flu should a virus similar to the 1918 strain arise. In the meantime, I guess you can be thankful that as your joints grow creaky and your vision fades, at least your immune system stays on its feet.

—Karen Hopkin

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