Cytokine Storm?

Swine flu is still heating up!  As of today, there have been 44,287 cases of Influenza A(H1N1) infection, including 180 deaths world-wide.

One death, that of a 20-year-old healthy woman from Escondido, CA has puzzled health officials.  “An excessive immune-system response that triggers a lethal molecular battle within the body could explain the deaths of Cheval and the handful of other young, healthy swine-flu patients, some scientists and epidemiologists said.”  This is also known as the dreaded cytokine storm.  “That potentially deadly process begins when an infection invades a person’s respiratory tract. As viruses take over cells in the sinuses and lungs, the body releases messenger molecules known as cytokines to trigger an immune-system response.”

Doctors say “Chevalier’s lungs weighed more than normal, suggesting they were saturated with fluid.  The liquid might have come from intravenous fluid pumped into Chevalier by hospital workers as they fought to resuscitate her, or it could have come from her own body.”

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2,254 cases of Influenza A (H1N1) Infection World-wide

Underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or tuberculosis appear to put swine flu victims at greater risk of hospitalization or death, doctors from the WHO and the CDC said.

Some of the serious cases involve healthy young people, and the reasons for that are still unexplained. Many of the patients went into rapid decline and died of viral pneumonia, not bacterial pneumonia, said Dr. Sylvie Briand, a W.H.O. flu expert. Viral pneumonia may be a result of the “cytokine storm,” in which the body’s own immune reaction to a new virus floods the lungs with fluid. It can progress faster and be harder to treat than bacterial pneumonia.

The cytokine storm was thought to be one of the factors that contributed to the deadliness of the 1918 pandemic.   A cytokine storm describes an immune system that has over-reacted and is damaging the body, causing failure of multiple organ systems.  This would explain why an unusually large number of young people died during the 1918 flu; they had the healthiest immune systems.

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