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Genetic Mutation Linked To Flu-Related Cardiac Complications

Sep 10, 2019

OSU researcher Jacob Yount led a new study that links heart complications from the flu with a common gene mutation.
Credit OSU Medical Center

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 531,000 flu-related hospitalizations during the last influenza season.

A study out of Columbus sheds light on why severe flu can sometimes lead to life-threatening heart problems, even in otherwise healthy people. Mike Foley reports.

Researchers at Ohio State University's College of Medicine have linked heart issues related to the flu with a common genetic mutation. The gene IFITM3 makes a protein critical in the early stages of the body's immune response. Mutations impede the protein's production making the virus more likely to infect the heart and cause fibrosis.

"Think of it in terms of a scar," Dr. Eric Adkins, associate professor of emergency medicine and critical care at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, said. "If you've ever had a cut and you get a scar afterward, there's some fibrosis there in the skin. The same type of thing can happen in the lung or in the heart." 

"It can actually block the electrical current that's travelling through the heart," Jacob Yount, lead author of the study and assistant professor of microbial infection and immunity at Ohio State University’s College of Medicine, said. "What our research is showing for the first time is that these deficiencies in IFITM3 are also linked to dissemination of the virus to the heart."  

Researchers say knowing that an individual has this genetic mutation may help doctors better tailor their care. But for now, they say the best defense for everyone remains the annual flu vaccine. While the timing and duration of flu seasons vary, the CDC says influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Peaks are generally between December and February, but a flu season can last as late as May. The study appears in the journal - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.