A striking new study was just released by the University of Michigan indicating that people who did not earn a high school diploma could be more likely to get H1N1 and the vaccine may be less effective for them compared to those who earned a diploma.
The study looked at a latent virus called CMV (in the herpes family) in young people, and the body’s ability to control the virus. Previous studies have shown that high levels of CMV antibodies make it harder for the elderly to fight new infections like H1N1, and hampers the body’s immune response to the flu vaccine. The new findings suggest that lower socioeconomic status may make it tougher even for adults of all ages to fight new infections and may make the flu vaccine less effective. EurekElert 11/11/09
Jennifer Dowd, assistant professor of epidemiology and co-author of the study, said:
We’re showing that the ability to keep CMV under control varies by income and education even at much younger ages, and this could have implications for the ability to fight new infections like H1N1 for all ages, not just the elderly. EurekElert 11/11/09
Infection with CMV is common but the majority of people aren’t symptomatic because the immune system suppresses the virus. People of lower income and education have weakened immune systems, which may be due to increased levels of stress. And in this economy, there’s enough stress to do a lot of damage.
CMV is thought to be a main culprit in weakening the immune system as we age, and is also associated with chronic conditions like heart disease. In the study, a person with less than a high school education had the same level of immune control as someone 15-20 years older with more than a high school education.
The study will be published in the next issue of the journal Epidemiology.