Mild vs. deadly flu could come down to one molecule

A Canadian and international research team may have found the key to severe cases of flu or other respiratory diseases. Patients who had the most severe cases had more interleukin 17 in their bodies. We have been getting the idea in the last several years that an especially strong immune reaction could wreak more havoc than the disease virus itself. Many of the patients who died of swine flu and consequent pneumonia have little virus left in their bodies. Yet they remain severely ill, their lungs clog and fill with fluids, and they can die. This severe reaction is called up by chemicals called cytokines; it’s been called a cytokine storm. Interleukin is one of the cytokines.

Interleukin is also found in inflammatory, auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, according to Dr. David Kelvin, the head of experimental therapeutics at the University Health Network in Toronto. He is the senior author of a paper published in Critical Care journal last week. Dr. Kelvin says that this is the first solid clue to the problem.

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