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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cytokine Storm may be Cause of Swine Flu Pneumonia, Deaths

Researchers say that H1N1 swine flu may be especially dangerous for young health adults because the H1N1 virus may cause a “cytokine storm” – a sudden release of inflammatory chemicals that prevent the lungs from functioning properly. Scientists, in reviewing cytokine storms in literature, wonder if high levels of cytokines cause so much inflammation when the H1N1 virus activates the immune system, that fluid and inflammation occur at the site of the infection, leading to pneumonia and death.

A concern about the H1N1 swine flu is the number of deaths that have occurred in young adults with healthy immune systems, perhaps because of cytokine storm. The same held true for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that also caused deaths in healthy young adults.

"We do not know how long ago this virus emerged, how deadly it is, whether it has pandemic potential, how the severity of infection relates to patient age, and why some infected patients die - whether a cytokine storm is responsible for these deaths," according to David L. Woodland, PhD, Editor-in Chief of Viral Immunology. Research articles about cytokine storm are published this month in the Viral Immunology Journal.

Dr. Woodland says we still have a lot to learn about the H1N1 swine flu virus. "We do not know how long ago this virus emerged, how deadly it is, whether it has pandemic potential, how the severity of infection relates to patient age, and why some infected patients die—whether a cytokine storm is responsible for these deaths."

The review of current literature suggests that cytokine storm is the cause of pneumonia and severe infections seen with H1N1 swine flu in young adults, based on past evidence. In the upcoming months, cytokine storm as the cause of severe illness related to H1N1 swine flu may become a research focus.

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc./Genetic Engineering News

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